Loughborough Endowed Schools spring concert
De Montfort Hall
Tonight’s programme would have been a challenge for a professional orchestra; but 400 school students gave a performance of which many professional choirs and orchestras would have been proud.
Students aged from nine to eighteen delivered an impressive selection of musical delights; in the first half works by Sibelius, Chaminade, Grandjany, Warlock, Karrick and Monti; then, in the second half, Mozart’s Requiem.
What we saw tonight was just how much music education has advanced over the past forty years. This country has no shortage of opportunities for young people to demonstrate their musical talent, from the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain through to regional and city orchestras and in the choral sector The National Youth Choir, several for children and the many church-based groups and choral scholarships of our prestigious academic institutions. For young musicians there is much to aim for. What stands out is that, here in Leicestershire, we have a music tradition that clearly rates highly at a country-wide level.
Tonight’s programme began with Alla Marcia from the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius. This well-known piece is one of the great lollipops of the classical music repertoire. A delightful confection of jaunty melodies offers a good start to a programme, although, I suspect, the youthful musicians were not quick to warm up, as some of the playing tended to be somewhat plodding and lacked the vigour and sparkle that you would hear from more seasoned performers. Even so, the piece rolled off the stage with satisfying precision and commitment. Flautist Emilie Harlow joined the orchestra for Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino. Now in year 13 at Loughborough High School, Emilie has performed with the National Schools Symphony Orchestra and is a member of the National Youth Wind Orchestra. Emilie gave a delightful and engaging performance of the 1902 work by the French composer whose concertino is an examination piece for flute students. Few would contest that Harlow passed with flying colours.
The stage was rearranged for the next piece, performed by the 16 or so members of the string ensemble. Harp soloist Aoife Miralles joined them for Marcel Gandjany’s Aria in Classic Style giving a vibrant and charming delivery of this piece by the French-born American composer. This was followed by three movements from Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite based on Renaissance dance tunes.
The items on tonight’s agenda were introduced by compère Peter Sargeant who talked about the music while the stage was re-organised for the various groupings of the first half. After the string ensemble had left the Symphonic Wind Band came to the stage, comprising flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, saxophones, trumpets, horns, trombones, euphonium, tuba and percussionists. They began with Brant Karrick’s Memor Vita! A poignant piece written in memory of a boy who died of cancer at the age of 14. In it, some of the musicians sing acapella, part of a song – How Can I Keep From Singing – unusual if not unique for a wind ensemble but they all sang beautifully. This lively celebration of life is full of vibrant rhythms and engaging tunes. The combination of wind and brass produced plenty of ear-pleasing harmonies.
More stage adjustments saw a range of percussion instruments taking centre stage in readiness for the arrival of Jake Baum for Monti’s Czardas arranged by Gert Bomhof. The rich and exhilarating rhythms of Hungarian dance music were vividly and dexterously brought to life by Baum on the xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel. Some might remember selections from this piece in Lady Gaga’s song Alejandro. The melodies we heard were memorable; tunes we have often heard before. In the fastly-paced Friska, Baum was able to show off his considerable talent as a percussionist. The piece illicted sustained applause and ended the first half of tonight’s programme.
The story behind Mozart’s Requiem will be remembered by some from the film Amadeus (1984) directed by Milos Forman, written by Peter Shaffer and starring Tom Hulce. In it we saw the 35 year-old composer, on his death bed, dictating the score of his Requiem to Salieri, his life-long rival. Terminally ill, the young composer died before he could complete what many would say was his greatest masterpiece, a work shrouded in myth and fable not least those manufactured by the playwright Alexander Pushkin and the composer Rimsky-Korsakov. Started in 1791, but never finished by Mozart, The Requiem Mass in D minor was conducted, in tonight’s performance, by Richard West with soloists Isabel Bridgeman (soprano), Joanne Edworthy (mezzo-soprano), David Morris (tenor) and Nicholas Crawley (bass-baritone). On stage all tiers of the choir stalls were filled with the members of the LES singers, serried ranks of children and youths supplemented by adult singers.
This great work of musical genius is a daunting challenge for experienced choirs and orchestras; to see it performed by a group of school children and students is astonishing and to hear it performed with eloquence and fully-powered solemnity is nothing short of stupendous. The whole evening was highly enjoyable and impressive but to take on the Requiem and deliver it with considerable ability is quite an achievement. The LES brought together their choir, Chesterton Cantamus and Burton Choristers, Loughborough Singers, and LHS’s year 7 singers. The Introitus and Kyrie won over the sizeable audience and then the Dies Irae. With its urgency and feverish string parts, the forces required from the choral parts are challenging, to create that sense of dread needed by this incredible piece of musical brilliance. Just as the Rex Tremendae calls for considerable resoluteness and stature to capture its feeling of majesty and awe. Tonight the huge forces marshalled in the DMH were magnificent and the concert was inspiring.
I was very pleased that the LES invited me tonight; being there was not just very enjoyable but revealed how far musical education has come (since I was at school) and what a wealth of talent there is in Leicestershire. A lot of my time is spent watching teenage musicians playing guitars and singing pop and rock songs; so, to see those of a similar age-group playing orchestral instruments and being part of a choral tradition was an exhilarating change to my usual routine. What tonight did for me is to re-affirm that our county has a deep fund of skills and abilities in its younger population than is acknowledged or recognised at national level; not as much as it deserves to be.
The LES Music School has added to its reputation for excellence the accolade of being an All-Steinway partner, one of only 175 establishments worldwide and of 22 in the UK (only 13 of which are independent schools.)
A huge variety of stalls were gathered together on the ground floor of Curve today for Local Offer.
On the foyer stage local artists Jonezy and Lacky C were entertaining the crowd with their hip-hop songs, joined by Freitas from Leicester. The hip-hop stars appeared courtesy of Xcluded.
Local Offer drew in displays from a wide range of organisations including Attenborough Arts, Changing Places, Disabled Childrens Service, Excluded Ltd, FTM Dance, Healthwatch Leicester, Leicester Centre for Integrated Living, Vista, Austism East Midlands and many, many more.
This a free event designed to showcase the services and support in Leicester City provided for children and young people with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND), aged 0-25 and their families.
The Foyer Stage saw performances by local hip-hop artists Jonezy, Lacky C and Frei and a DJ set by Harri Giorgio (a Leicester music producer.)
Jonezy appeared courtesy of Xcluded music management.
This list brings together in one page the articles I have written about music. Not included in this list (as yet) are the articles I wrote for the old Arts in Leicestershire magazine. I plan to re-publish some of these in the archival collection on this blog.
This is not the first time that I have written about the perils of music journalism. Writing about bands and the performances they give can be a dangerous thing. If you get it wrong, it backfires on your reputation as a writer. On more than one occasion I have been criticised for writing only about the bands I like. Such criticisms have come from people whose opinions are respected. My stock reply is along the lines of ‘well if I think a band is not very good, then there is no pointing writing about them.’ Bear in mind, that (at Music in Leicester magazine) we are not paid to do this work; it is a voluntary commitment – we do it because we are passionate about music.
It has been suggested that this magazine should write honestly about all bands, whether they are good, bad or indifferent. Sorry. But no. We just don’t have the time to provide a service of that kind; we are not a Wikipedia-type website for general knowledge about everything musical (even within the confines of Leicester.) I write about bands that I like, whose music I think I understand and whose performances tick the various boxes that I use to describe what I think is good in terms of live music. [What makes a good band?]
All those who write about gigs and bands choose which ones they want to devote their free time to. I cannot direct people to attend certain events; if I am asked which events I would suggest, I do so, but this is not a paid job with a chain of command. Volunteer reviewers are more likely to go to a gig and write about it, if it is one they like. Apart from me, all the other writers have full-time jobs and have to fit their music interests around these.
Doing justice to a band
Having thought about it, I am of the opinion that, if I see a band and their music fails to excite me (either because I do not understand it or because I am just not in the right frame of mind for it) then I should not write anything. It is a disservice both to the readers and to the bands if I write something half-hearted, just to give them a mention. In other words, it would be better to say nothing than write a review that fails to justice to act or set. I have a habit of turning up at a gig without having researched the bands beforehand; life is very busy and time is short, so it is easy to skip the pre-gig stuff and hope you can wing it.
How long does it take to write a review? Well, very roughly speaking, it takes
Prep – up to 30 minutes for pre-gig research
Attend – Two to three hours to get there, see the bands and get back
Write – varies a lot but say 30 minutes on average, per band
Photos – allow 30 minutes to process photos and upload them
So, we are talking about a time commitment of between 3½ and 4½ hours. That’s just single gigs; and then are festivals… Writing time can be extended if you want to listen to a band again after you have seen them or watch any YouTube videos they have of their performances (often helps to check if you got it right.)
This calls into question what music journalism is about. I have sometimes Googled ‘gig reviews’ and gone through some of the stuff that has come up. This can be a useful exercise because any editor should want to compare the standards of his own work with that of others. One thing that stands out for me is that the best reviews (that I have read) are those that have clearly been written by people who know and understand the acts they are writing about. They have seen these acts before; they have listened to their music; they have taken some time to become thoroughly acquainted with the artists they are writing about. This makes them able to provide a justifiable and credible account of the work of that artist or band. Keith Jobey said: “I know of a band who had a bad review (unjustified and not from MIL) about an early gig they’d played. They changed their name partly because it was being used against them. Happily they are now getting decent slots after positive MIL mentions.”
Standards are important
Looking back over my own experience of going to gigs and writing about them, one thing stands out – I have often not researched a band before seeing it for the first time. This results, in some cases, in a review of a poor standard.
Now, none of this would matter much, except that (a) Music in Leicester is one of the few places where people can read about bands and artists from our local area. We no longer have publications like The Monograph or From Dusk to Dawn and most of the websites that used to publish stuff about the local music scene have vanished. (b) I know for a fact that many promoters, venue managers and festival organisers check what we write here to get a feel for which bands are worth booking.
If there was a website that was a ‘wiki’ for all things musical in Leicester, then probably people would prefer to use that. All that music organisers have is Facebook as a source of intelligence about bands and artists – and that provides information but rarely allows for a more critical appraisal, and if they want to listen to a sample of tracks then Soundcloud and YouTube is also there. Good thought such sources can be, they provide only a partial picture. In most reviews we also try to describe how the audience reacted to what they were hearing; that is often a very important element of our reports.
There is also the issue of genre. Some bands play music that I call ‘niche’; to do it justice, you have to understand what that music is about and that can be difficult for generalist writers. I often see hardcore ‘screamo’ bands; I like some of them and others I do not. I have a general appreciation of this style of music but I do not specialise in it. A review of a post-hardcore gig would be much better done by someone who is really into that kind of music and knows the scene well (such as one of the musicians that play in bands of this kind.)
Publishing a magazine about music in Leicester is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. This website is not a fanzine; it might appear to be but it is not our intention to publish something that only promotes the acts we happen to like. My fear is, however, that it appears to be just that. If this is the case, then I have not been doing my job properly. One solution to this problem is to get more people to write about more acts – to spread the net more widely. We have gone to some lengths to encourage contributions from people but the results have been less than good. Photographers are two a penny these days; but what is the point in seeing photos if there is nothing that puts them in context? Writing is not something that a lot of people go in for these days; either because of a lack of self-confidence or just a consequence of the post-literate society.
As an editor, I am delighted with the contributions made by our regular writers, Keith Jobey for example, to name but one and previously Kevin Gaughan. The problem I have is that there are just not enough people willing to go out to gigs and write them up; and in Leicester there are just so many gigs, that we can hope only to scratch the surface. As I have often said “so many bands, so little time.”
Where do we go from here?
What does this mean for the future of our editorial policy? Well, I think it means that we have to raise our standards, make what we publish more credible and do a better job of writing about live music. The consequence will be that less will be published. Unless we can recruit more writers, that will be the result, given our current resources. Perhaps it is better to publish good quality reviews, even if they are fewer in number, than to make a half-baked attempt to cover a broad field. Bear in mind that anything that gets published on this website (magazine) stays there for all time; it is not ephemeral, it does not evaporate, it is a permanent record that stays on the Internet for as long as the site exists.
My conclusion is that we should write about a band or artist only when we have take some time and trouble to understand and appreciate their work. Given the pressures I am under, that means I will write much less – especially about the acts I have not seen before or do not know well. If a band is on tour and plays in Leicester (and the chances are they have not been here before) then they might have left behind them comments or write-ups about their previous performances. That gives an indication of what people think about them. Rather than watch a band cold (without any previous knowledge or experience) it is better to spend some time trying to get one’s head round what they do and then (when you do see them) you are more likely to write with credibility about their set.
The end of gig reviews?
As of today, I have cleared all the notes in my work book. I have more or less finished my review of Simon Says… festival. I have cleared the decks. It is time to make a fresh start. That fresh start should, I think, include doing the right amount of research before going to a gig. It might also include writing about ‘bands’ rather than ‘gigs.’ If you go to a show and see four bands but like only two of them, it would be better to write about those bands and say nothing about the others. (Notice I am talking to myself now.) That is not a gig review.
Recently I have been to certain gigs only because there were one or two bands that I wanted to see. I sat through the rest of the night and wrote about the others because I thought that justified my presence (on a free ticket.) I should stop doing this. The bands I do not write about may well be good bands and worthy of a positive review but that can be a hit-and-miss thing. I might not be the best person to write about them.
I think it would be better if we concentrated more on writing about bands and their music and took a more imaginative approach, including asking for comments from musicians and their fans, adding links to on-line sources so readers can make up their own minds and profiling bands to give the reader a better idea about what they do and have done.
Like many people my musical tastes are changing. I know what I like. I know what fails to excite me. The range of live music that I feel impresses me is narrowing. Personally, I tend to like rock music that is popular and melodic. I do not dislike metal, punk, hardcore, etc. but I do not feel the same way about it and know less what makes some bands better than others within this context. I should defer to others who are impressed by that other kind of music. I should not write about performances that are less than exciting (for me.) Others can do that job far better. The problem is getting other to write or even to comment.
This magazine was launched in June 2013; two years on, it is time to weigh-up its results. So, as of now, my gut feeling is that there will not be ‘gig reviews’ in any number and that what will get published are more articles about bands and singers and about the nature of our local music scene. If this provides readers with a more solid and credible coverage of music, then I might be doing my job properly.
When reporters are sent to a gig, we ask the promoter of the show to give us free ‘tickets.’ This assumes that we are writing about the gig as a whole. If, however, to go to see one or two bands in a line-up, then we should ask the bands to provide us with tickets. If they want us to review their performances then they should provide us with the access to get in to see them. Having said that, some of our reviewers prefer to pay to get into gigs; that is their choice.
We start by looking at some of the key characteristics of Leicester’s music scene in the 1990s. In this section, reference back to earlier years is made in order to set the context for certain points. More detail will be provided in my next chapter which looks at the era of the radio and record player, starting in 1940 and ending with the start of the 1990s.
The 1990s on the Internet
It was during the decade of the 1990s that mass use of the Internet got going in the UK and Leicester and people went on-line in increasing numbers.
My first experience of going on the Internet, was when I worked for DeMontfort University in 1995 at the Scraptoft campus. The first pages I ever saw, from the Internet, were in monochrome (green text on a black background) and there were no graphics. That was probably because the only access the campus had at that time was through the specialised Universities system called ‘Superjanet’, which was mainly concerned with bibliographic references and research papers.
It was not until 1997 that I got my own Internet connection at home; in those days we had to use a modem connected to the telephone line which dialled up the ISP and frequently dropped out.
Some international websites appeared in this period. The Internet Underground Music Archive Collection (IUMA) was started in 1993 by three students at the University of California at Santa Cruz. They worked together to create an online music archive that would help musicians and bands who weren’t signed by a major label. The site allowed these unsigned artists to upload files and send them to fans; it also gave artists the opportunity to talk with their fans. At first, The IUMA was part of the Usenet newsgroups. In 1998, Emusic bought the Internet Underground Music Archive and changed the look and feel. Unsigned artists would sign up with the service and receive a website and URL devoted to their name [IUMA website]
In 1994, a number of key developments changed what the ‘Web could offer to the music industry. Music tracks started to be made available to fans on a global basis and technologies that allowed streaming were becoming increasingly powerful. One important consequence of this was that the record labels lost their strangle-hold on music; underground or alternative music could now be made available by the bands themselves. By 2001 the big five labels had begun to realise the importance of the Internet and to colonise and cash in the market for digital tracks. [Spellman, 2002]
America Online (AOL) began in 1983 but it was not until 1993 that it began to offer an all-purpose Internet service. AOL was, at one time, the UK’s largest Internet access provider. Not everyone liked it but it seemed that everyone was on it. As a multi-media platform, it catered for the musical interests of its users. I worked for AOL from around 1997 onwards, and I remember someone asking me (in a chat room) if I had ever heard of a band called Kasabian. I think this must have been the first I had ever heard of them. I continued working for AOL into the noughties. I remember chat rooms being provided, in which famous music celebrities held real-time, interactive conferences with subscribers from around the world.
In 1999 AOL cut its rates for Internet access; much of the company’s success was due to the way it distributed CDs that gave access and installed its interface client on to personal computers. People used these CDs as coasters and beer mats and some even used them to make art installations and sculptures. They were even given away free as inserts in magazines. In the early noughties and late 90s, AOL was competing with providers like Freeserve and Virgin and distribution of these installation CDs was a core part of their strategy. Love them or loathe them, it is true that AOL gave many millions of people their first access to music over the Internet. The millions of CDs distributed by AOL led some to claim it was an environmental hazard because they were not biodegradable.
Bands too started to register domain names to provide them with tailor-made web addresses. The domain dead.net was registered on January 20, 1995 for the American rock band formed in 1965 – The Grateful Dead. A British rock band – Marillion – formed in 1979, registered Marillion.com on December 19th, 1996, but this was not the first.
A band formed in 1990, appeared in an article about technology published on the BBC website. The article claims that an image of the band is thought to be one of the first ever upload to the World Wide Web.
An all-female doo-wop band whose image is believed to have been the first photo uploaded to the fledgling world wide web is to play its final gig. Les Horribles Cernettes take their swansong at the Hardronic Festival at the Cern laboratory in Geneva – the birthplace of the web. A picture of the women was uploaded to the web on 18 July, 1992, by web creator – and fan – Tim Berners-Lee. He wanted it to test out the version of the web he was working on at Cern. [BBC website]
The English rock band Muse is thought to be one of the first bands, in this country, to have a website. Queen, the English rock band formed in 1970, registered its domain name queenonline.com in June 1999. In November 1998, thebeatles.com was registered and is till online today. One of the very earliest domain names to be registered was music.com in 1993 and you can still view this today.
I myself started to register domain names for the websites I worked on; one of the first was blaby.net which I registered in 1997. It was not until the early noughties that Leicester bands began to make their own websites.
Bear in mind that it was not until 1993 that the first web browser appeared. Inventor of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee, started work at CERN in 1980 and began to develop software that would display the HTML pages he had invented. It was not until 1995 that web browsers became commercially available when Microsoft released Internet Explorer in 1995. Netscape produced its own browser, Navigator, and by 1996 had won 86% of the market. Earlier people used Mosaic, a browser was that was developed from late 1992. Web browsers continued to become more and more sophisticated and gradually developed the capacity to display complex images and multimedia components such as video and music.
The 1990s – venues
In Leicester, as in many other cities and towns, live music venues allowed bands and artists to put on their own gigs. This fuelled the growth in bands; it became unnecessary to be signed to a record label to achieve anything meaningful and, for thousands of young men and women in Leicester, producing music for their fans became a realistic possibility. In the 80s and 90s, Leicester saw the rise of permanent music venues that supplemented the well-established supply of opportunities provided by pubs and bars.
These small venues provided ‘amateur’ bands with an outlet for their music; they were amateur in the sense that they played music in their spare time, as opposed to being professional musicians. These venues were small – ranging between 50 to 200 in audience capacity. The venues were important to the development of music, both in Leicester and at a national level. As one report put it
These venues have played a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 40 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills. [The Music Venue Trust, 2015]
The rise of the small venues greatly increased the total volume of live music being performed in Leicester and provided music fans with a wider range of musical choice than was available in the pubs and bars. Venue managers were willing to book bands that played the kind of music not generally found on the commercial scene. These small venues provide Leicester with much of its musical heritage. Whilst larger theatres, mainly the DeMontfort Hall and the Granby Halls, and some of the big nightclubs, provided national touring acts, it was the little venues that were the lifeblood of the music scene. The advent of the Internet and the small venues gave ‘amateur’ music a huge boost.
In a recent article, Rhian Jones comments that
The biggest bands today started their careers playing to modest audiences in pubs and clubs; if the places available to do that diminish, where will the future festival headliners learn their performance skills? If there’s a dearth of fresh live talent, you get festivals that just book the same bands to headline again and again, without giving newcomers a chance. [Jones, 2015]
The age of the DIY music artists had begun. Hundreds of bedrooms became recording studios. Shops began to sell recording equipment; in Leicester, retail outlets like Maplins did a roaring trade in microphones, amps and mixing devices. As laptops became increasingly affordable, musicians could download software and begin to mix and master their own work in a way that was impossible before. All kinds of electrical equipment, for the recording of music, could be purchased on the Internet. This trend ended the reliance of musicians on third party publishers of music, such as the record labels.
Small music venues were (and still are) the lifeblood of local music; acts that performed in them were selected for festivals and many of the nation’s emerging super bands toured the small venues in order to build up their fan bases. The Charlotte began in 1989, when it was known as The Princess Charlotte. It closed in 2009, although a couple of attempts were subsequently made to re-open it.
The Shed opened in 1994 and is still open today; this makes it the longest running venue in Leicester. On the other side of the city, The Donkey has been a venue for live music since 2005. The year 2000 saw the start of The Musician. Many people still fondly remember The Attik which ran from 1985 to 2006. The De Montfort Hall also put on live music acts and was the destination for a large number of nationally famous bands and singers. Prior to its demolition in 2001, the Granby Halls served as a venue for music concerts, alongside its use as a sports centre. Several music shows were held there.
What singles out Leicester, as a music city, was that it never got chosen as a place where national companies wanted to open branches. Chains such as Barfly, never came here. It was not until much later that big name companies like The Academy Music Group (with its chain of O2 Academies) and Sub91 in 2010.
Alongside the live music venues were the night clubs. Mosh, at the top of the High Street, opened in 2003. From 1971 to 1981, Baileys, near to the clock tower, provided live music and some big named bands played there. Helsinki club opened in 1983 and many of the city’s top DJs played there including the now internationally renown Lisa Lashes. In the High Street The Bear Cage opened in 1987. The old Palais de Dance, in Humberstone Gate, had been a venue for dancing and music since the 1930s and provided the venue for Ritz’s Club in 1987. The club was substantially enlarged in 1971. The Palais played an important role in the social life of Leicester for many years. The property had a chequered history and its ownership and management changed many times. It was recently called Sosho which launched in 2012. It is now closed. So, the 1980s was the golden age of night clubs; today (2015) almost half of the nation’s discos and clubs have closed. Club Republic, in Sandacre Street, opposite St. Margaret’s bus station, had a number of names over the years, including Zanzibar. Close by, another of Leicester’s long-running and popular clubs which is now called Liquid and Envy. In 2012 it was called Krystals. In Wellington Street, The Basement bar served as a bar, nightclub and live music took place there over a number of years. Quebec was, in its time a large and popular nightclub in Belgrave Gate; it opened as a gay club and was once a very popular venue providing DJs and very occasionally live acts. Not far from there was Streetlife, which also started as a gay club. Both of these venues were taking over as general nightclubs. Although not open for very long, Harveys, a small bar in Belgrave Gate, had an iconic reputation. In the cultural quarter a club called Soho stood on the site now occupied by an Indian restaurant and in its day was popular with people who liked underground and alternative sounds.
If we look at 2009, we see a number of venues in operation, according to information annotated at the time by Alan Freeman [Freeman, 2009]. In his article he mentions the Criterion pub in Millstone Lane, the Firebug previously known as The Firefly (also in Millstone Lane) and the Y Theatre in East Street as being places where music was performed. He also mentions De Montfort University (previously known as Leicester Polytechnic) and we know that live music would have been performed there in the student’s union. It is said that Bob Marley performed at one of its shows in the 1990s. Leicester University’s Queens Hall would also have seen a programme of important bands visiting the room that is now in use as O2 Academy 2). I was involved in putting on gigs at The Pavilion, the cafe that sits on the London Road side of Victoria Park. I also ran gigs at the Sun Bar, in Church Gate.
In fact it is not difficult to identify a large number of buildings that were used to mount live music events during this period. Outside of Leicester, in the county, music was largely confined to pubs. The Three Nuns, in Loughborough, for example, put on bands at the weekend. The rise of local festivals has already been covered in Chapter 1.
The 1990s – Types of music
Ska and reggae are two musical genres that have been important in the musical life of Leicester, just as they still are today. In fact a film about Black Music in Leicester has documented the important contribution made by local artists and musicians to the national music scene. The Spectrum project tracked the city’s history of soul, disco, reggae, R&B, gospel, drum ‘n’ bass, hip hop and ‘urban’ music over the last 40 years. It covered singers, bands, DJs, sound systems, dancers, musicians and record labels, across music of Black origin. [Arts in Leicester, 2014]
The 1990s – Bands
1991 saw the formation of the band Cornershop, formed by Tjinder Singh, his brother Avtar, (both of whom lived in Leicester at the time), David Chambers and Ben Ayres. Their music was a fusion of Indian music, Britpop and electronic dance music. Cornershop was an Anglo-Asian agit pop band, that became famous for the 1998 Number 1 single Brimful of Asha. Perfume and Delicatessen both also rose to critical acclaim.
Wikipedia states that ‘The band Prolapse, was formed by a group of Leicester University and Polytechnic students in 1992. The band rose in popularity, and quickly gained a record deal with Cherry Red Records, recorded a number of John Peel sessions for Radio 1, and toured with Sonic Youth, Stereolab and Pulp. Leicester is home of the influential Rave – Drum & Bass Formation Records label and associated 5HQ Record Shop, which was reopened in 2012 as an active recording studio.’ [Wikipedia] Prolapse has recently reformed.
Gaye Bykers on Acid was formed in late 1984 by Ian Reynolds (Robber) and Ian Hoxley (Mary). They were later joined by guitarist and art student Tony Horsfall and drummer Kevin Hyde. Their first gig was at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester in mid-1985.[Wikipedia]
The formation of Kasabian (previously known as Saracuse) happened in 1997. The band, as Saracuse, played their first gig at The Shed in 1999. The original band members were from the Leicestershire villages of Blaby and Countesthorpe. Kasabian have won eight major music awards and have been nominated 27 times for major awards .They are one of the biggest indie bands ever to have originated in Leicestershire. Kasabian went on to become a world-class band, the biggest music act to have come out of Leicester since Englebert Humperdinck.
The Young Knives formed in 1998 in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in North West Leicestershire. The band was known for its energetic live performances and trendy tweed outfits. They broke into the music industry in 2002.
Ska band Kingsize formed in 1999 and is still going strong. The band played its first gig at the Royal Mail pub in the city centre.
Several Leicester bands from the 1990s are mentioned by Alan Freeman on his web page [Freeman, 2009]
I plan to cover Leicester bands of the 90s in more detail when I write the chapter on this period in my forthcoming book.
The 1990s – Rehearsal rooms, recording studios and record labels
Pink Box Records opened in 1994. Pink Box was set up as a hobby business by record collecting fans Sue and Chris Garland in 1994, not as a record label but to sell rock and indie records at record fairs around Central England. The name Pink Box came from the record storage boxes they used. Frustrated by the lack of national coverage to bands from the East Midlands they decided to release a record on their own label – Pink Box Records.
Stayfree (founded in 1992) opened in Conduit Street in 1995. Before that they were housed in Friday Street. The Conduit Street premises offered rehearsal rooms and a variety of other services. Stayfree Music still exists today (2015) at its present location on Frog Island but started in 1992 in Friday Street, moving to Lillie House in Conduit Street in 1995 before moving to its current location in Frog Island in June 2009. Stayfree is known for proving rehearsal rooms but a number of other activities and projects have taken place in its premises over the years. There were rehearsal facilities dotted around the city and the suburbs.
1990s – Broadcast media
1996 saw the start of Takeover Radio. This radio station was set up to provide children and young people with opportunities to learn radio broadcasting. It provided an outlet for local music and many new bands and artists received airplay from the station.
Mention was made in my last article to BBC Radio Leicester, Demon FM, Radio 2Funky and other stations. These are played a role in broadcasting tracks by local artists, along side other music. Leicester Sound was one of the commercial stations that played music, sometimes broadcasting tracks by local bands and artists; it was once based in a building opposite Victoria park.
1990s – Festivals
Small venues were often places where local bands were discovered and invited to play at the increasing number of music festivals that were starting up in Leicestershire.
The Abbey Park Show was axed in 1995, nearly 50 years after its inception. The annual Abbey Park Festival event provided a key launch pad for many new bands. It’s importance to live music in the 90s cannot be understated.
This chapter has sketched a period in the development of Leicester’s music to provide a very partial picture of what it was like between 1990 and 2005. As with all of these chapters, a more substantial account is envisaged for the book when it comes out.
In my next chapter I will move on to consider the era of radio and records – from 1940 to 1990.
Reference to all these articles are given on a separate page
Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester
Our rating: *****
Director: Luke Sheppard
Choreographer: Tim Jackson
Book and Lyrics by Jake Brunger and music and lyrics by Pippa Cleary.
Tonight saw the world première of Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ The Musical. The theatre was packed; in the bar area, BBC TV crews were doing live interviews and outside there was an OB van, its dishes sending the signals to the networks. It all added to the excitement of this auspicious occasion.
When it first appeared in 1982, Sue Townsend’s first Adrian Mole book was an instant success and sold millions of copies world-wide. I remember reading it, soon after it was published, constantly laughing out loud (much to the surprise of the other passengers on the train). The book was made into a TV series in 1985, the theme music’s title song being written by Ian Dury no less. The BBC broadcast a version of it as a Radio Four thirty minute play in 1982.
Tonight’s production was in two acts. The music was provided by a band, seated in an orchestra pit just below the front of stage. The five-piece band was under the directorship of Luke Sheppard. The set and costume designer was Tom Rogers.
What made tonight’s experience so unforgettable was the atmosphere – everyone was loving the show. Like the book, there were moments of pure hilarity, silly naivety and sheer pantomime. Risqué double entendres from the adult characters, Adrian’s adolescent naive comments and absurd situations kept the audience in fits of laughter pretty much throughout the whole performance. The musical had ably captured the spirit of the book. The show was a tour-de-force of musical comedy and a celebration of the bitter-sweet absurdities of adolescent growing pains.
Adrian and Pandora have their first proper kiss; a prolonged engagement, that the audience caught the pleasure of; afterwards Adrian walks to the front of the stage. The expression on his face was one of elation and surprise; you could tell from the reaction of the audience that this was one of the show’s unforgettable moments. Joel Fossard-Jones had to cut short the clapping and cheering by launching into his next song.
It was somewhat odd that the actors in the classroom scene comprised members of the young cast and adults both playing school children. Odd though this was it certainly amused many members of the audience. Many references occurred in the dialogue that evoked Leicester in the early 1980s; such as the reference to Pandora’s new dress, when Adrian Mole suggested she had bought it in C&As (the clothing store that used to be in the Haymarket shopping centre) whereas she retorted that it had been purchased at the much classier Debenhams. In one scene there was a bus stop bearing the world Leicester City Council, an allusion to the bus services once being provided by the local authority.
Tonight the lead role was taken by Joel Fossard-Jones, aged 13 ¼, one of four youngsters sharing the role. Adrian’s best friend Nigel was played by Samuel Small (also aged 14 ¼) with plenty of sparkle and energy. Classroom bully boy Barry Kent was played by Harrison Slater, who also did the puppetry for Sabre the Mole family’s dog. It was a conscious decision by the producers to give the teenage parts to actors of the same age – a feature of the musical which should be roundly applauded. Pandora Braithwaite was played tonight by Imogen Gurney; a role that she performed with great charm and resonance. Solidly good singing and acting came from members of the adult cast – Rosemary Ashe in the role of Adrian’s grandma, Neil Ditt as Adrian’s father George Mole and Kirsty Hoiles as his mother Pauline Mole. The curmudgeonly Bert Baxter was played by Neil Salvage.
During the interval, The Simpletones (Leicester’s top a capella and barbershop quartet) were singing in the bar area.
In act two, the school nativity play (devised by Adrian) was a pantomime but one that had the audience in stitches as they watched the antics taking place on the stage.
The show closed to a standing ovation from the audience whose reaction to the musical was justifiably jubilant and genuinely appreciative. At the final bows, tonight’s line-up was joined by others members of the young cast, the various teams of teenage actors who are taking it in turns to share the burden of the nightly performances, each one dressed in the crew jackets emblazoned with Adrian Mole emblems.
I liked this production; Curve has given us so many good musicals over the years but this is one that many will remember with particular affection.
Leicester is a city that is making a name for itself these days. The reburial of a medieval monarch is nearly upon us and when this show goes on tour, even more people will come to recognise that the Midlands city with the somewhat odd name is a place with a considerable resonance for music and the arts. Famous Leicester acts and artists have already paved the way for the city’s musical notoriety: Kasabian, Sam Bailey, Engelbert Humperdinck, Showaddywaddy… to name but a few from the world of music. The world will come to know Leicester as the birthplace of King Richard III, Sue Townsend, Joe Orton and several others. We shall see.
Background and story of the musical and read about sue Townsend on our feature article page
Presented by Peter Shaw and Joanna Cecil for Archerwest Ltd and Water Babies Musical UK Ltd
Book and lyrics by Ed Curtis and Guy Jones
Music by Chris Egan, inspired by the film produced by Peter Shaw, screenplay by Michael Robson, based on the novel by Charles Kingsley.
Staring: Louise Dearman as Mrs Do as you would be done by, Tom Lister as Eel and grimes,Tomas Milner as the lead character Tom and Lauren Samuels as his girlfriend Ellie.
Executive Producer – Tristan Baker, casting by Anne Vosser, orchestral management by Steve Socci, set design by Morgan Large, choreography by Nick Winston. Directed by Ed Curtis. Producer – Joanna Cecil
Peter Shaw said “The idea of turning Water Babies into a theatrical musical was first suggested to me over 30 years ago by the late, great Hollywood star, James Mason …”
Orphaned teenage hero Tom is framed for a crime he did not commit. To escape capture at the edge of a waterfall, he jumps. Instead of dying he wakes up in the ocean where he encounters a new world of enchantment, danger and adventure.
To get back to the girl be left behind, Tom must face a set of challenges in the underwater world he discovers. With a set of unlikely friends – a lobster, a seahorse and a swordfish – he sets out in search of the Water Babies, a mysterious set of people who can help him to return to his own world.
Two thirds of the show is set underwater in the ocean. The cast of characters – including the three sea creatures who ride around on bicycles. Charles Kingsley’s book was about fairies – it was a fairy tale and this musical sets out to capture that spirit.
This production uses the amazing technical facilities of Curve’s stage to bring alive a story that would be difficult enough in film, let alone on a live stage. The song and dance routines reflect many of the aspects of traditional musical productions, anchoring the theatrical elements and stunning visual effects into a recognisable format. How do you represent an Eel? Costume designer Amy Jackson gives the character a lycra jump suit onesie, a large cloak and a top hat. What do you do to costumise a sea horse? Another stroke of brilliance – you make him into a french dandy with a fan and put him on a bicycle. Amy Jackson’s worked fantasy into her costumery to make sea creatures into human beings.
The set designs were cunning and inventive, designer Morgan Large wanting “the two worlds of above-water and under-water to be given a distinct visual language”, the judge in the court room scene sitting on a lifeguard’s chair and the rooftop scene using upturned boats as roofs and in some scenes we saw a submerged Victorian pier.
The show was in two acts, the first setting the storyline and Tom’s leap into the water and in the second Tom finds the Water Babies and secures their help to return to his own world of dry land, to be re-united with his girl friend Ellie.
The show offered a captivating story line about teenage self-discovery, a love story and a fantasy adventure. The lyrics were impressive and the witty dialogue was snappy. Plenty of visual and verbal humour kept the audience launching in the right places, counterposed with moments of poignancy and pathos. The sets were ingenious with a lot of moving and shifting going on and the landmark special effects (SFX) used the wonderful technical facilities at Curve (better than most you would find in the West End.)
A show suitable for an all-ages audience, it would be a satisfying experience for young and old alike. Chris Egan’s music was modern and workmanlike although there were no hit songs to whilstle on the way home (unlike the recent production of Fame at the DMH and the earlier production of Priscilla.)
The singing and dancing were of a high standard and the acting was quite good, mainly because the casting had resulting in a good line-up of artists to fit the characters.
Water Babies at Curve featured in a news item on BBC’s East Midlands Today and was the first Curve show to benefit from prime-time tv advertising (to my knowledge.)
An enjoyable show, offering plenty of entertainment. High on technical wizardry, the show presents a demanding story in a way that is about as successful as it can get for a theatre. With its real waterfall and holographic imaging, it was a superbly clever production. Solid performances from Louise Dearman as Mrs D and Tom Lister as Eel rather eclipsed those of Tomas Milner as the hero Tom and Lauren Samuels as Ellie. The trio of Lobster, Seahorse and Swordfish were scene stealers. Richard E Grant (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, Doctor Who) played the Kraken. The show received its world premier at Curve.
Book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright.
De Montfort Hall, 27th October to 1st November.
Our rating: ****
So, who is Willy Russell?
A British dramatist, composer and lyricist who you might remember for Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Our Day Out. Born near Liverpool and educated at its University, we are told that Russell was ‘an only child of working-class parents with a troubled marriage.’ So, his musical Blood Brothers does seem to have a fair bit of biographical content. As a playwright, his first success was with John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert. Educating Rita came in 1980 and won him the Laurence Oliver award, coming out soon afterwards as a film starring Michael Cain and Julie Waters.
What about Blood Brothers?
Russell followed up his success with Educating Rita with Blood Brothers which, after opening in Liverpool, went to The Phoenix Theatre in London where it won another Olivier prize – for best new musical. Bill Kenwright’s production ran for 24 years and enjoyed sell-out successes in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. The New York Times heralded it as the ‘most popular British musical of all time.’ Strange! They must have forgotten about about Oliver, The Sound of Music, Cats, Evita, The Boyfriend, The Rocky Horror Show, The Lion King, Les Misérables, Phantom…
So what is Blood Brothers about?
Set in Liverpool of the 1960s and 70s, it tells the tale of twin boys – Mickey and Edward – separated at birth, one growing up in a working-class family and other being brought up in an affluent home. Although the boys became childhood friends, they never knew of their kinship. As teenagers they both fell in love with the same girl, who Mickey eventually marries. The boy’s natural mother keeps secret the fact they she gave one of them away to her employer, a wealthy but childless lady, who employed her as a cleaner. The story portrays the class divide, the power of superstition, the impact of local authority housing policies, the twisting nature of fate, the up and downs of life…
In fact it is a fairly simple tale that uses familiar scenarios that we have all seen before. The story line is helped along by the narrator (said and sung by Kristofer Harding). The plot is said to be loosely based on the novel The Corsican Brothers by Alexander Dumas, which has a somewhat similar plot and has been made into several plays and films. The first half of the show is jovial and amusing, an almost pantomime-ish comedy. The second act is a dark, disturbing tragedy that draws to a shattering dénouement, which I won’t spoil…
Any good songs in it?
None that I can remember. This is not a show I had seen before; and it didn’t leave me with any tunes that I could whilstle on the way home. But the score includes A Bright New Day, Marilyn Munroe and Tell Me It’s Not True, which are said to be ‘memorable.’ The cast at the dmh were fantastic, the singing was great, the orchestra was good and the dance routines were tolerable. The two leads roles, Mickey (Sean Jones) and Edward (Joel Benedict) were well casted and their performances and characterisations were convincing. Likewise, working class mum Mrs. Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) and posh lady Mrs. Lyons (Kate Jarman) were similarly well casted and their characters ably portrayed. The rest of the cast were somewhat cardboard cut-outs but that did not get in the way. Blood Brothers is a powerfully moving show, packed with compelling scenes and chortle inducing vignettes that take the audience on a roller coaster of farce, tragedy, comedy and catharsis. It’s stuff you can laugh at and cry with. The dmh audience gave the show its traditional standing ovation.
It was a good production then?
It was. The set was well crafted, although the backdrop used in the first act showed a city scape that looked more like London than Liverpool and the second act’s backdrop was a decidedly unimpressive depiction of a rural landscape. But, these are minor details. The cast’s leading artists brought their characters to life and handled the tear-jerking moments with satisfying mastery. It was a well-crafted show that was strong on timing, professionally sung and orchestrated and its technical aspects…
Did you enjoy it?
I did. Even if the word ‘enjoy’ is possibly less than apt. This haunting, emotionally charged epic tale of love, family, fate and loyalty left me feeling somewhat sell-shocked and a little drained but then I prefer something that pulls at the heart-strings, lifts the spirits only to send them crashing into a harrowing darkness – not unlike the kind of stuff we will experience when La Traviata comes to Leicester and it’s certainly true that Blood Brothers has won critical acclaim from the provincial press during its tour of the local theatres. Sean Jones‘s portrayal of Mickey was impressive, particularly when he plays the adult character as a drug-addicted, unemployed, ex-prisoner – a real show-stopper. Joel Benedict‘s portrayal of posh twin Edward was astute and compelling. Pretty much Liverpool’s take on West Side Story, Blood Brothers is not a show you would easily forget.