The tailspin of the performing arts sector has been spectacularly devastating during the COVID-19 pandemic – one of the many huge unreported issues has been the mental health of performers.
The tailspin of the performing arts sector has been spectacularly devastating during the COVID-19 pandemic – one of the many huge unreported issues has been the mental health of performers.
Yesterday afternoon the news rolled across our local media that Unity Works (formerly Unity House), one of the larger venues in Wakefield had been placed into administration resulting in all future gigs being cancelled and events and weddings left without a venue. The reasons for the collapse will be speculated upon for years to come as it’s all unpicked and analysed but I’d like to share some personal memories of the story.
I’ve started podcasting the local music scene again for Wakefield Music Collective. This is Podcast #6 (I suppose it’s a season-2 opener but I don’t know when it’ll end up on hiatus again) and is probably worth a listen although I’m using a new vocal mic (a Yeti Blue) which is a bit harsh. You can subscribe using iTunes as well as grabbing the MP3 directly from themusiccollective.co.uk.
I’m also involved in Clarence Music Festival again this year and applications are open for bands to put themselves forward to play. Anything goes so it’s worth a shot and this is the first year you can apply online (as opposed to the past 21 years where you had to put in a promo pack by post). Find out more here.
“So, I’m in Wakefield. Where do you recommend I should go?” “Leeds.”
Back in September the Wakefield music ‘scene’ (such as it is) exploded a bit, triggered by a contentious blog article on Wakefield Music Collective written by Dean Freeman of Rhubarb Bomb. A week or two later Wakefield Express published an op-ed piece by the same author, bemoaning the fact that pub-goers preferred seeing a cover band to heading upstairs and seeing an ‘originals’ band. A more recent edition of the Express gave over a whole page to three well thought-out responses from a local musician, the part-owner of the sort of venue Dean was laying into, and a punter. This is not about that fight.
My first memory of a Wakefield gig was seeing Frank White down at the Post Haste (now the Snooty Fox) in the early 80s when I can’t have been more than 9 years old and I was a Wakefield Jazz regular until 1993ish. My experience of the more recent ‘scene’ has therefore been principally rooted in the years since Nicky and I moved back up North: roughly 10 years during which I’ve photographed a lot of bands (signed and unsigned), performed with a few, promoted some gigs, been balls-deep in organising festivals and danced at more gigs than I care to count. I’ve yet to come across any area which is like Wakefield. Why?
The Wakefield music scene is unique maybe because Wakefield music fans (and most of its musicians) like to think “big”: after all we’re deemed to be a city if only for the looming presence of Wakefield Cathedral. We’re a town really though – quite small in the grand scheme of things: there are a couple of venues but nothing you’d call sizable. Geographically we’re a satellite, little more than a dormitory of Leeds in terms of the inhabitants and just a few junctions down the M1. Heck, even the inhabitants (me included) refer to it as ‘town’. We don’t have a University from which students thirst for big acts, and although Westgate is frequently full of partygoers from outside town few of them seem to make it further than the nightclubs.
A common complaint from the musos is the absence of a decent-size venue to attract “big” acts: the closest we have to a ‘national-class’ venue is The Hop with an upstairs cap of about 200 people, competent sound guys and good management. Unless you count the club venues (of which Balne Lane WMC has been the usual venue for big acts such as The Fall or Glasvegas albeit more out of necessity) or Mustang Sally (which has been talked into hosting large gigs on occasion) then I suppose the next size up is Wakefield Theatre Royal. Black Flag Warehouse on Smyth Street showed promise but soon after opening it nosedived, cancelling gigs due to horrendous ticket sales and went spectacularly bust several times over. We might have Unity Hall in a couple of years and although I made a small investment to bootstrap it I’m not optimistic about the ability to sell tickets to keep it going while it builds up a reputation.
Why is this? Well, I think partially the bands. Wakefield’s “think big” attitude doesn’t help the acts themselves – it’s all too easy to just play gig after gig in the city on a support slot and convince yourself you’re brill. Those sorts of nights attract the ‘friends and family’ audience for sure, but if I had a penny for every time I’d been asked to go support a band who are playing at one venue tonight, a venue nearby little more than a week later, and another Wakefield City Centre venue in two weeks time I’d be a rich man; I’m not going to go to all those gigs and I certainly won’t shell out for the same set time after time. Last year’s Long Division Festival 2012 had some terrific acts on but I’ve heard from more than a few people the complaint that save for a couple of really good headliners it had been filled out with every single Wakefield band signed to one of our local record labels (I discovered the extent of this when I was involved in organising Clarence Park Music Festival and trying to find a local indie act which hadn’t played Long Division – it was extremely difficult).
If you’re looking for a success story then look no further than the group who had the good sense to get out of the city as quickly as they could instead of getting trapped in the whirlpool: The Cribs. Regardless of what you think of their music, you have to admit the following in Wakefield is one of near-religious fanaticism: a sighting of a Jarman brother at a gig or a festival quickly leads to rumours that there might be a secret gig in town. Other bands could easily get to this stage, but it’s a matter of getting out of the comfort zone of perpetual support slots at the local venues. Bands want their fans to come to them in Wakefield, maybe because it’s a bit more effort to get a gig elsewhere, or maybe they just don’t want to risk playing to empty rooms.
T’was ever thus though: if you read I’ll Go to T’foot of Our Stage: The Story of Yorkshire Pop Music written by Craig Ferguson, Wakefield is rarely mentioned save for Be Bop Deluxe. Players Club in the 90s played the same acts over and over again (I remember a poster for a band called The Mad Egyptians stating “bollocks, it’s just cos they’re sick of playing at Players”).
So what’s the answer? Well in my humble opinion it needs to start with the bands. Get the bands playing outside Wakefield, and the city becomes more known for its acts. As it becomes more known for its acts, people are more likely to travel in to see someone they’ve never heard of. Although we have a hell of a lot of talent in the area promoters need to stop putting on the same local acts all the time: there’s tons of bands in Leeds, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Manchester and all over the place who’d like a gig elsewhere. Hell, while I was doing stuff with Wakefield Music Collective our incoming mailbox was chock full of requests-to-play, so it’s definitely not that difficult. Apply a simple rule: if the act’s played locally within the last 3 months, don’t put them on unless you’re really desperate, or even better do an act-swap with another venue in another city.
That quote at the top by the way is a genuine response from an audience member at The Hop’s monthly Kill For A Seat comedy night. As tongue in cheek as it was, I fear they may have a point.
Right, so there’s this pub which isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere (unless you’re going to the Double Two factory shop). Used to be The Jolly Sailor in Thornes, but more recently became a bit of a restaurant-pub called The Wharfside. They’d put out a shout for bands to play at a one-day free music festival: Obvious Pseudonym put ourselves forward as did The Tracks. Time passed, we heard nothing, eventually with a fortnight to go Dorian and Faye (keys and bass players in The Tracks) headed down there to see what’s going on: they discovered from landlady Vicky there was no PA and no marquee and no lighting and… well, it could be disastrous. So we got involved…
Really it was all a bit ‘Challenge Anneka’: build a decent-sounding PA using kit I’d got in the garage, get the lighting rig down there, borrow a van, and work out how to use the digital desk with a full band. Dorian and Faye did the street-team thing with posters, and we put out calls for more acts to perform. In the end though it sounded and looked ace – definite proof to myself (if nobody else) that I can do it.
So came the day: I disappeared off at 8:30am to pick up the van, diverting via St Michaels to pick up Dorian and Mac (The Tracks’ drummer) who are both young lads with muscles. We loaded the van with every bit of kit under the sun (it just fit) and headed to Wharfside to find Graham and Harry of StagePro sitting outside waiting to unload the drum riser we’d hired. A bit of huffing and puffing later, we’d got all the tables out of the way and the riser was in place. Next up: the marquee.
Now, this damn marquee wasn’t in the best of nick – it had obviously been used a lot and the plastic poles were cracking from stresses unknown (presumably in the course of its life at Diamond Studios, who’d kindly lent it to us). Mix in the complication that it was so windy getting it erected was going to be a bit of a mad job! It took six of us to get it upright at which point it became evident something was wrong as the wind was whipping it up far too much (“it’s going to end up flying across the Calder!”) and no amount of of gaffer tape was going to fix it. Fearing a Pukkelpop moment, Vicky and I passed the buck between us on whether we’d have the marquee at all. Then…
“‘ang on, this isn’t right…” opined John J, who’d turned up mid-erection (fnar).
I stared, trying to work out why the guyropes were on the inside. “Er. Oh. The roof’s on upside down, it’s meant to fasten up.”
“Right. Let’s flip it over, might work, and if not then we do without it!”
It was a bit more stable after that!
I built up the PA using amplifiers I’ve had kicking around for ages and various other bits of stuff, all lashed together to a programmable digital remote desk FOH where I could also control the lighting rig. I had the usual bits of EQ and had a discussion with a few folks to try and get the best mix. Consensus was that it sounded excellent, and we’d easily packed enough power for the event. Maybe if anything it was a bit mid-heavy at the sides of the venue but you can’t have everything can you.
So to recap, 3pm: marquee’s up, PA is in place (7KW of stuff with an exceptionally heavy amp cab and borrowed tops from OP’s bloke Pete), lighting rig is in one piece and working, we’re surviving the onslaught of quips from volunteer Chris and there have been no disasters yet. Hooray! We soundcheck with The Tracks, who are the first full band and due to hit the stage four hours later at 7pm.
First act was up: Dorian and Tom doing an acoustic set, 20 minutes of songs to get things going. I wasn’t expecting it to be busy at all until about 6pm although the beer garden started to fill up once the music began. Sound was good, a couple of tweaks on the EQ but nothing serious. Nicky arrived and started taking photos, so it was documented – excellent! At this point Chris grabbed me and pointed at the left sub speaker which was lying on the floor having been blown out from its cabinet by the sheer air pressure involved in moving a 1KW high-end Celestion 15″ driver. Oopsie, I guess building a new cab for those is on my job list this week!
Callum Macintyre next: one mic, one guitar. He was excellent, no disasters, place is filling up nicely. I looked across to see Rob Dee (Philophobia music boss) had arrived with Mike Ainsley and Harry Rhodes ready for their slot, plenty of friends milling around and other luminaries from the Wakefield music scene. We were running to time – maybe slightly ahead of it, good. I rigged and line-checked for a duo called ReaderMeetAuthor who announced this was their first gig and they’d only formed as a band three hours ago: cue epic muddling through some covers, but it sounded OK (Mathieu’s other band The Ran Tan Waltz is a lot more polished and I recommend a listen). Nice to see Jon Pinder and John Jowett photographing lots.
Almost 6pm: level-check for The Cullens and they’re on. I see Danny Cullen in town quite a bit (especially at Open Mic Monday) but I don’t think I’ve actually concentrated on their sound before which was wonderfully polished, and by this point we’d got some folks dancing. The beer-garden was full, and looking across towards the river there were people lying on the verges in what Summer sun was shining, having a beer and enjoying the afternoon. Taxis arrived ferrying new listeners, still no disasters and still no rain despite it being forecast for around 5pm. As we were a little ahead of time, the Cullens got a couple of extra songs: sound-man’s privilege 😉
Mike Ainsley was up next, together with Tim and Harry from St Gregory Orange. They insisted on sitting down and we couldn’t find any chairs or stools so we pulled up a few unused guitar amps – very rustic. No major adjustments on the desk, maybe a little bit of EQ on Harry’s guitar. A really rather splendid set from Mike (another act I’d been remiss in not listening to previously) and that was our acoustic acts done! I spotted various OP followers in the audience including Jayne and Bez, and felt a little buzz of pride that they’d come down to the out-of-town venue to see it all.
The Tracks were on at 7:15pm and I was all-on to get the sound right so didn’t stray far from the FOH post. They’ve got lots of dynamics in each song with thrashy crashy guitars followed by quiet thoughtful passages, full drum kit mike-up and all 12 XLR channels on the sound desk which lit up like a Christmas tree. Lots of dancing, two scruffy old blokes have shinned the fence and are trying to get people to buy them beer, and some nutter in the audience has got hold of a tambourine. Tom’s face is a picture. Good reception and an encore was demanded: the band did not disappoint their fans!
All of Obvious Pseudonym were present and accounted for by now, so while The Tracks got their stuff offstage we loaded ours in and tarped it at the side. Still no rain although there were a couple of reports of it spitting a little. Nothing blew up: always the important thing. Meantime the next act (“I R Hero”) set up with a little bit of a problem in that the drummer only had one working arm and needed an extra snare mic for his kick-snare. No problems I guess, especially since they’d initially asked for a 10-mic setup on the drums – er, no chance boys…!
I R Hero launched into their rock-pop-punk set, but no sign of the snare kick on the sound-desk… I sent Dorian up to investigate but we ended up replacing the mic. It was still a bit touch-and-go with the monitor mix not being brilliant, but again the sound out front was ace. I left to find a pint of Guinness, and came back just as the drummer resigned from the band. A bloke in the crowd stepped up and drummed on their last song… the drummer wasn’t seen again.
9pm, we were running to time, nothing destroyed, no disasters, no rain; I bravely ventured an opinion that the whole thing seemed to be going OK. Vicky glared at me: don’t jinx it sunshine. We plonked Obvious Pseudonym’s stuff on stage and I set up the keys on the drum riser so I had a little stage of my own, woo! Dorian familiarised himself with the desk to do our sound. I admitted to myself I was nervous, this was the first time I’d trusted someone at the controls who wasn’t a professional sound engineer or music technician: be strong, lad!
We went on at 9:20pm, five minutes late, bouncing into Westgate Run and doing the Summer set we’d mostly done for the past four weeks on our International Tour Of Wakefield with one notable exception: Eclipsed had been replaced by the new song Dad Dancing. People danced, genuinely and ironically. It sounded good from where I was, and we got some excellent comments: one couple even came across from the flats over the Calder to see us after hearing what we were like. New fans!
We came off around 10pm and by midnight everything was back in the van. Nicky and Jayne were dispatched to find curry and I sat in the bar with a (fresh) pint of Guinness (after not getting around to drinking the last one). Still no disasters, still no rain, and we’d managed to put on our first full festival; thoughts of next year pervaded through the exhaustion as Dorian, Jim, Faye and I came down off the ceiling. Pretty damn good for amateurs and the sound was ace, I just hope the desk recording is as good: I’ll find out later. Uberthanks to the people who helped by lugging, lifting, erecting, removing and all that stuff including Chris, John, Jim, Nicky, Ben, Carl, Tom, Rob and Mac. You guys were ace and made the job so much easier; I’m exceptionally proud of what we achieved.
…now, I’m off to unload the van and collect the drum riser!
Another year, another Clarence: Wakefield Music Collective’s almost-annual jaunt down to Clarence Park Bandstand for fun, japery and a big pile of bands, all cemented together by a crowd sat in the sun on The Hill lubricated by alcohol.
Whereas in previous years I’ve been on the periphery, this year I was a little more involved. I say ‘a little more’ as the Collective organisational meetings take place on Wednesdays which is notorious for being booked up with other stuff (mostly for Nicky which means I need to source a babysitter). However I did get tasked with putting together the poster, programme and branding which considering I’m not a designer didn’t come out half bad: you can get a PDF of it by clicking here, brought up to date with the stand-in bands.
Load of acts playing (including us, but I’ll come to that in a mo) and those I was really impressed with included acoustic lass Hannah Atkins who looped together herself playing guitar, keyboard and violin to build up entire accompaniments live; I’ve coveted a loopstation of some sort for a while but I don’t think I have the talent to bring it off (at least not multitimbral talent!) and I’m always impressed when I see someone using one competently. I also quite liked Diamond Dac’s Delta blues guitar and dobro work, very relaxing for Sunday. The real highlight of my weekend though was Lorenza Woods, a female-fronted rock group which borrowed bits of Rage Against The Machine, Cannibal Corpse and other similar genres to build up some really angry screamy rock interspersed with quiet sweet sections; they’re a Wakefield band so I think I’ll try and catch them again sometime.
We played, sans Dan on guitar cos he was on holiday. This wasn’t planned at all – we were asked to play only a few days before and thankfully we’ve got a pile of gigs coming up so have a playable set (without Dad Dancing, you’ll have to wait for that one): it went well really, a lot better than I expected especially when the backing/drum machine crashed off the table towards the end of Sex Noises and left us without percussion. Oops. We carried on as if nothing had happened and ended with an acoustic take on it – a definite tribute to Pete keeping the rhythm going on the bass! I’m not sure many people noticed. Jon Pinder has some photos here (et seq.). I am also extremely proud to announce that Obvious Pseudonym were the first act this year to knock a tile off the bandstand roof with the sound; this is becoming an annual challenge, and were it not for the netting in place the tile would have ended up embedded in John J’s head. Again, oops. Oh and we were the first act where the sub-bass rattled the hill: according to Marci you could feel it through the ground – yay!
One thing I was really impressed with was sound engineers Middi and Tom using the iPad to remote-engineer from halfway up the hill; I spent ten minutes watching Middi twiddling EQ and all sorts of things during The Greeting Committee’s set, remote-controlling the desk on-stage where Tom was keeping an eye. It’s a great way of keeping the budgets down and negates the use of a front-of-house tower. Still, it’d be nice to have a delay tower next year 😉
So, yeah, it went well. Clarence is a lot easier these days with the absence of the second big stage and the addition of the security stuff at the bandstand – it means that at the end of Saturday it can all be securely stowed and we don’t need to have a large security presence on-site. That said we did have some security issues still overnight, but mostly due to pissed-up kids coming back from town and seeing if there was anything left in the beer tent. There wasn’t, of course… but it’s still a pain in the arse. Lots of people came to watch, and I think that it’s still a success despite being a shadow of its former (Council-funded) self. Damn you, austerity measures.
(ps. I wasn’t going to mention it but I got stung by a wasp, and it bloody hurt. Ended up pulling the sting out with my leatherman. Ouchie. I may or may not have mentioned it over the weekend.)
In short, it was utterly mindblowing and Wakefield did us proud (for the most part but we’ll get to that later). Six venues were involved on Saturday: Mustang Sally’s, The Hop, The Graziers, Wakefield Cathedral, Wakefield Town Hall and Henry Boon’s; you needed a wristband to get into each one, which involved forking out the pithy sum of £12 to see 40 acts throughout the day and evening. A phenomenal bargain when you consider some of the acts playing – hell, The Wedding Present would charge that for a single gig. It was all the brainchild of local fanzine editor Dean Freeman and local promoter Chris Morse (aka Morsey), both familiar faces on the scene and both of whom I enjoy a pint with occasionally.
For my initial involvement I’d volunteered to do photography together with a small team of friends – John J, Nicky and Laurie Cooper-Murray (of StageZero photography). Morsey knew I’d lit the Cathedral for the Dr Feelgood gig last year and asked if I’d do the same again for the acts there – no problem, but a few days before the festival started he also asked if I’d got a rig for the Town Hall too. Um, OK, in for a penny and all that 😛
So Saturday came: the first job was rigging up the Town Hall. I got there with Ellie at about 9:30am to find nobody around and the stage in bits… turns out everyone was already running a little bit late! Middy, Harry and the StagePro chaps (who were doing sound for all the venues) showed up presently and I lent a hand lugging stuff around before I had to disappear to deliver Ellie to orchestra practice. Home for a quick shower and change of shirt and I’m off in with the camera kit to get started, calling at The Hop to pick up a press pass and my yellow Long Division t-shirt (photo courtesy of John J).
First band I saw was Blood Oranges, catchy indie-pop up at the Town Hall. Nice guys, very enjoyable and I was pleasantly surprised how many people were there from the start – the Kingswood Suite was almost full already and some foot-tapping going on. Good one. This also gave me a chance to get the lighting right and take the first photos of the day in a non-stressful atmosphere. Earplugs in and off we go!
I figured I should get used to the headline venue, Mustang Sally’s, so strolled down there to catch The Finnlys – again, jangly guitar indie but I find it hard to take a band seriously when the lead singer looks like Roy out of The IT Crowd. The red saturation in the venue was horrendous (quite probably the worst conditions in which I’ve found myself shooting) and we’d already had a stipulation of ‘no flash’ – I did try a couple early on to see what it’d be like but really it was absolutely awful.
The next band on my list was Dinosaur Pile Up. Last time these guys were on at The Hop, John had photographed them and said they were loud – bizarrely this time round they were quieter! This was a distinction which didn’t carry through the rest of the bands upstairs at The Hop: despite sound engineer Tom’s efforts the new PA rig is just a bit too loud for that small room I think. Some work needed.
Once I’d got enough shots there I wandered down to the Graziers (stopping in at the Bull & Fairhouse en-route for a sneaky half-pint with Lisa the landlady). I’ve not photographed down there before and was surprised to find a full stage although there was no lighting which reduced me to the sole gig where I had to resort to flashgun. On-stage was Standaloft, a young rapper beatboxing various comedic songs (and some not so comedic) along to a backing on an iPod. I was pretty impressed actually, not usually my cup of tea but songs which wouldn’t be out-of-place in Joel Veitch‘s repertoire.
A stroll back down to catch my only act at Henry Boon’s: a lass called Clemence Freschard backed by various members of David Tattersall’s band The Wave Pictures. It was packed in there and very little air circulation but I stayed long enough to grab some shots and listen to her singing. Very pleasant stuff, made even more pleasant by the French accent (via Berlin, apparently) – I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. Both Laurie and I didn’t last in there cramped in a corner and disappeared off to the bar to find a quiet half-pint – how the heck Nicky managed to do the whole set of The Wave Pictures themselves I don’t know.
The Wind-Up Birds weren’t on the Long Division band page so I was largely in the dark regarding their style when they hit the stage up at Mustang’s. Not too shabby, quite similar in style to the Cardiacs (the lead singer bore more than a passing resemblance to Cardiacs frontman Tim Smith) and they played an extended set as the subsequent act had pulled out.
I left in time to get up to the Town Hall for one of the bands I definitely didn’t want to miss: Fonda 500. Both John and I had been seriously impressed with this lot when they visited The Hop earlier in the year and we expected a treat. Unfortunately, although the band went through the motions I don’t think the lead singer really wanted to be there and seemed out of sorts consistently stating that ‘this might be our last song’ after the first couple. Boo. Don’t let this minor aberration stop you from seeing them in the future though!
It was at this point I’d got it noted down to go to the Cathedral and set the lighting up for Emmy The Great. Lots of folks told me to try and catch her, and I was fortunate to find the band were soundchecking when I arrived. As I cabled the lights around them I got my own little show which was lovely and I resolved to go back later on and catch at least some of her set. A wander back up Westgate via Subway for a hurried tea, getting goosed by Rachel of Chat Noir who was on a hunt for cheap vodka.
The next ‘must-see’ was Darwin Deez. Pete Fabs (he of Obvious Pseudonym) told me of their stage antics, and they really did not disappoint: choreographed dance moves between toe-tapping bittersweet songs, and the venue was packed out for it. Photogenic guy, I stopped for the entire set and bought the album on my way out: not the first Amazon 1-click iPhone order of the day, certainly not the last.
Back to the Town Hall for I Like Trains. I was still a bit worried about the lighting rig falling over as it was wobbling a bit, but this particular band were somewhat gentler. There wasn’t much illumination to the front of the stage by now owing to closed curtains and some fading light but a few fisheye shots were squeezed out and then dashed back to Mustangs to catch Piskie Sits.
Well that was the plan anyway. I got there to see Harry and co soundchecking but was distracted by Morsey waving frantically from the other end of the stage to check my phone which read “urgent sarah needs photos at hop quick”. I made a swift exit and dashed across Westgate narrowly avoiding the Saturday traffic where landlord Ian Fisher was waiting for me, “the sponsor for upstairs needs photos, it’s a condition of the sponsorship, it’s rammed up there though…” – hardly surprising since the next act was Los Campesinos! and even I’ve heard of them.
The thought process went something like this: “250 people, I reckon, all squished into a room which wasn’t designed for 250 people. Hardly any aircon, windows wide open. I look across the venue to where I need to stand, co-photographer Jon Pinder has chosen the easy corner near the door and I need to get to the other side. Urgh. Right. Excuse me please mate, can I just get thr… what the f…” I felt myself being bodily lifted up, camera kit and all, raised aloft on a sea of wristbanded hands. It’s years since I last crowdsurfed and at the age of 37 I wasn’t really prepared to do it again. Too bad, the only thing going through my mind was “Er, crap, there’s a wide open window coming towards me, and we’re on the first floor!” – so I nosedived, landed head-first on the aluminium crowdbarrier and almost hoofed the poor teenager behind me in her mush with my boot. But there I was – I grabbed the required crowd photos plus some of Los Campesinos! themselves and reversed the process to get to the door (which was, mercifully, a lot easier).
At that point I’d guess it was around 8:30pm. The Piskies were still on at Mustangs but I had a stinker of a headache by that point, almost a migraine. I wandered outside The Hop and bumped into Dean (Freeman) who commented I didn’t look too well, but I needed to man up and get the Piskies on their largest stage gig. Back at Mustangs the lighting hadn’t improved but there were quite a few folks watching the band, mostly stragglers from the Darwins set or who had arrived early for The Wedding Present. Long-standing drinking buddy Bez had arrived by then and bought me a beer which did nothing to improve the migraine situation but rehydrated me enough to get the shots I needed in the final two songs of their set.
A wander back to the Cathedral to listen to some of Emmy The Great with Laurie. Both Nicky and John were already there: I’d missed a lot of the set plus this migraine was really kicking in by now. Laurie had suggested I chug a can of full-fat Coke and some ibuprofen which seemed to do the trick at least temporarily: I soaked in the beautiful sounds in the Cathedral while dumping off some photos onto the netbook hard disk as I’d run out of CF (or at least the non-Kingston CF, and remember the last time I used those). Some quiet long-lens photos of Emmy, some relaxation, and then I was raring to go again.
Headliners The Wedding Present were trumpeted, not least because it was their first visit to Wakefield in 20 years. I arrived at Mustangs after the set had started and annoyingly I’d already missed my favourite Weddos song ‘Kennedy’. The sound wasn’t fantastic but quite literally the joint was jumping – too much in fact and the bouncers kicked off at the poor punters. While bearing in mind that the bouncers are usually used to a raucous Saturday night Wakefield crowd they were completely out of order – any exuberant pogoing and you got ejected out the back door with a few well-aimed punches from the door-staff at the same time. Very very sad and put a damper on what was otherwise a fantastic day. For my part I was right above where the bouncers were kicking off and managed to get a couple of photos of the ruckus but nothing useful. The gig was stopped while the bouncers were ejected from the premises – I mean, it must be bad for the security staff to get thrown out of the gig they’re meant to be policing!
After all of that, Gedge and co went back on, I took lots more photos, it was pretty good, and once they’d finished I went back outside to find Saturday-night Westgate in its typical unsurprising state of pissed-up perma-tan tarts and Ben Sherman meatheads. A bit of a scene-change. John, Laurie, Jon P, Nicky and I decided it was time for a hard-earned pint and repaired to The Jam Inn (the new chillout bit of The Hop) for a jar of Yorkshire Blonde and a chinwag. Hardcore to the last, Laurie caught Middleman (as they’re “his” band) but I was just too knackered and I’ve seen them before a few times anyway.
So that was my Saturday. We gigged on the Sunday but that was about it – I’d planned some more photos from the Fringe but was just too shattered and I’d got over 20,000 photos to sort through. There’s some good reviews of it all including this one at Sweeping The Nation and Dean’s account of the day from an organiser’s perspective (just in case you think I nicked his idea for this blog, I actually started writing it the day after the festival… best laid plans though, I’ve had a lot of photos to sort and I forgot to take the following Monday off work!).
A selection of photos from the day are being uploaded to my Long Division set on Flickr and there’s some pics from other photographers in the Long Division Flickr Group. Full sets of bands are gradually going up to photos.jml.net as I’m sorting through them. Should be finished in the next few days hopefully.
(A postscript: Monday morning came and a delivery van showed up with a large box of CDs. The moral? Multi-venue festivals and iPhone Amazon 1-click don’t mix. Ouch.)
Several years have passed since Wakefield Council levelled half of the city stretching from Brook Street down to the old gasworks, diverting Marsh Way and knocking down (among others) the 1960s market hall, the Tut & Shive pub, Marsh Way multistory car-park, the Jacob’s Well Tavern pub, and assorted bits of factory and warehouse around Duke Of York Street. Despite the disasters which befell the investment company leaving a big muddy hole in the ground for the best part of a year and a half, Trinity Walk opened its doors a month ago today and let the scathing public in.
Well, it’s not bad: it’s clean, it’s tidy (not for long I’m sure but let’s enjoy the moment), it’s big and airy and convenient from the bus station. Very few of the original lines of roads and walkways have been kept from the old market so it can be quite strange when retracing ‘where things used to be’ (for instance, Pizza Express is sited where my grandfather’s local butcher “Our Benny” was). Most of the diverted Marsh Way area is now a huge labyrinthine underground car-park for instance.
A good shopping experience then? Hmm, so-so. It’s blustery and the whole thing acts as a wind tunnel; even on calm days it’s breezy and when I popped down on Saturday you could quite easily have landsurfed down the main concourse. I’ve not sat on the Costa Coffee plaza yet but I can imagine it getting a bit too cold in winter. Parking’s a bit of a nightmare first time round due to the car-park layout. Usual chain-stores, nothing greatly interesting or that you can’t get elsewhere but useful when you need an outfit in a pinch. There’s only one shop there which I would consider to be anywhere near ‘independent’ (but which is still a chain of course), a clothing outlet called ‘Pulp’ who flog vintage t-shirt designs, tight jeans, hoodies and badges – the stuff the youth (and I) wear. Nice people.
Inevitably, the rest of Wakefield has suffered as a consequence of Trinity Walk’s birth: although we have a couple of new ‘big’ shops (Debenhams, H&M, the return to Wakefield of ‘Next’ after a long absence for instance) migrants have come from elsewhere throughout the city. Sainsbury’s move from Ings Road has left the other end of Wakefield much quieter despite the proliferation of retail park units down that end (and made Ings Road Roundabout less congested). The removal of Body Shop, Top Man, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and others have left the Ridings Centre little more than a shell for bargain shops and (bizarrely) a Christian Bible Study Centre. Shops have simply moved around – contents may settle in transit – and it feels an odd juxtaposition walking from the closed and abandoned retail units of Teall Street onto the clean-cut and well-lit lines of Trinity Walk itself. I suspect if BHS, Primark and M&S moved elsewhere it’d put the nail in the coffin of the Ridings Centre, and it’s pretty telling that a press release published in local paper Wakefield Express tried to jolly everyone up as they’d had small units Holland & Barrett and the Clarks store extend their lease. Woo.
In talking to some of the stallholders and shopkeepers around the Trinity Walk area it would seem the footfall has changed quite substantially too. Mr Allum the butcher says it’s made a heck of a change, positive news after several years of being stuck at the end of Brook Street ‘not quite on the way to anywhere’. Reports from the outdoor market stallholders is good but still very much a fine-tuning affair: Mark Venables the grocer moved his stall about 20ft into the main market and saw an increase in sales being directly on the path from the crossing to the bus station. Conversely the indoor market has seen a drop because nobody’s going ‘via’ the building (the food hall of course has persistently vacant units and we still don’t have a fishmonger but I’ve done that to death over the years). Maybe that will change when it rains.
More generally, it fascinates me if you count from the birth of my eldest (which almost coincided with the first big demolition – that of the old bus station), Wakefield has changed more in the past 10 years than in my entire lifetime: a new market, a huge new shopping centre, a bus station, new council offices at Merchant Gate, the Hepworth Gallery and waterfront to name but a few. In the next couple of years we’ll have the new railway station, more council offices, the controversial move of Wakefield Museum, and the new swimming pool (construction began today). Some years ago my father moved to Australia and (save for a couple of flying visits for family reasons) hasn’t been back since; I’m not sure he’d recognise the place, let alone drive round it.
Ultimately though it boils down to this: Wakefield wants to be a big city, a huge player, but with Leeds so close and no University (yes that does matter in my opinion) it’s always going to struggle not to come a poor second to the city facilities offered a few junctions up the M1 – and if Leeds is having problems filling the market and shopping units, and has the same shops over that way, what hope for Wakefield and Trinity Walk? Wakefield might just be a bit too small for it.
This is unofficial, compiled from various sources (including the blackboard in the pub itself) although obviously I’ll try and keep it as current as possible. That said, if you’re making a special trip to see a band it’s worth validating yourself.
See you tonight if you’re coming for the opening of the upstairs venue!
Wonderful plumage, Trinity Walk!
From one of the articles linked below:
A construction company working on a prestigious £200m shopping centre has confirmed that a bank backing the project has pulled out of the deal.
On Tuesday morning 185 workers at the Wakefield Trinity Walk shopping development being run by York-based Shepherd Construction stopped work.
The council have sold the sites, knocked down a substantial portion of the city, relocated the market, demolished a huge pile of parking, knackered the shops that are still standing, broken the one-way system, sold off the library books for that relocation, busted a pile of archeological finds, and now they’ve left a big hole in the ground. Hurray! Still, I bet the Ridings Centre are having a giggle.
As a friend put it: “buy up and flatten a load of buildings, blight the rest, chuck out the shops, then cancel it”. Presumably this will leave Wakefield in much the same state as Bradford and Leeds, where expanses of waste ground forlornly stretch where once shops, affordable flats and council parking stood.
There used to be manned ticket barriers at Leeds railway station – manned by real people who would check your tickets and stuff. You’d usually get two people there at least, reasonably efficient. That all changed a few months ago when the barriers got pulled up, the staff moved elsewhere, and the powers-that-be put in automated ticket barriers.
Since then it’s been a total fail:
However, there’s an even bigger failure you can have fun with: you can use almost any mag-stripe ticket in them. One morning I was in a hurry and pulled out an expired Metro-card, which quite happily let me through the barrier; subsequently I tried a London Underground ticket from 2007, a National Rail ticket from 2005 and even a ticket from somewhere foreign (Trans-Perth rail probably). I’ve also had confirmation that credit card receipts from the ticket machines work as well.
(NB. I should point out at this juncture that I did have a valid Metro-card during the period of testing, at no point did I attempt to dodge fares).
It does bring an interesting question to mind though – why did they install these? It’s easier to fare-dodge using the new barriers (if not via the expired-ticket method then you can just stroll through since the attendants don’t check tickets anyway); it doesn’t increase efficiency but instead increases congestion as commuters attempt to get through the barriers; there’s no decrease in staffing either.
It all just seems a waste of time, and it’s bloody frustrating for us commuters.
In the past few weeks the new Wakefield Food Hall has lost the game butcher (although I didn’t think they’d last long), the Polish deli, and most disastrously the fishmonger. We now don’t have a fishmonger in Wakefield again, a sorry state of affairs.
My mother’s next-door neighbour has been chucked out of Westgate railway station. He’s not that much of a spotter, just likes watching the trains going past, apparently…
I’ve just been to empty the bin, and it occurred to me that it’s almost 3 weeks since our dustbin was emptied thanks to Wakefield Council’s policy of only collecting “real” refuse every fortnight coupled with the council strike. That’s assuming they stick to doing an “emergency” collection this week of all the refuse (which I’m doubting – they’re astonishingly anal about extra bags and things).
I’m beginning to wonder why I’m paying my council tax.