Totally Leek

Image

(Take a bow Marc…!)

For those of you who don’t know, I have strong connections with a sleepy little market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands, at the foot of the peak district, called ‘Leek’.

I worked there for about ten years in my former life at a building society, I lived there for three years, my band ‘Gravity Dave’ (www.facebook.com/gravitydave) are based there, I ran a music festival for the last 4 years (www.leeksummerjam.com – unfortunately on hold for 2013 while we take time to consider our options), and best of all, I have good friends there.

So I have taken an interest, I am a Leek ‘fan’ if you prefer. I may not live there any more, but I am there every week for rehearsals, and often on other odd days for gigs & visits. Nowadays, I live in Longton with my partner, and as nice as it is, well, it’s just not Leek.

I try and explain this to people when I talk about how much I miss the place (even though I’m often there). The usual explanation goes something like,

“You can just walk out of your door you know, and it’s nice, just being able to ramble round the shops, maybe see a few familiar faces. Have a pint. Oh, and it’s great when there’s a market on…”

Because that’s what you get in Leek, a proper yet inclusive localism. Maybe it’s just because I’ve joined the ranks of the self-employed, but I know so many traders, musicians, artists and skilled people who live and work there. And maybe that’s why it was so nice to see the opening of Leek’s first ‘pop-up emporium’ last Thursday (04/07/13).

It’s bitter sweet in a way, because the good people of the unique gift-shop ‘Colloco’ (http://www.colloco.co.uk/) have decided to wind up their high-street presence, but luckily for the rest of us, the driving force of the ‘Totally Locally’ campaign in Leek (http://totally-locally.co.uk/leek/), Colloco’s Marc Briand, has decided to allow other traders in for the final couple of months of the tenure, to road-test Leek’s first pop-up.

And so it was, on Thursday, while taking a swift break from a gruelling day of setting up recording equipment for a Gravity Dave session (and it was gruelling, there are about 5 sets of stairs to our lofty practice room, and they wind and turn like an Escher painting), I decided to nip out for some grub before the big push. Our fantastic volunteer producer (another Leek talent, a man who knows everything there is to know about recording and is a talented musician to boot) asked if I could pick up some biscuits from the health-food shop, but alas, it was closed. So a quick call later and I was asked to grab “a nice Tartlet from Pronto”. Pronto is the gorgeous little Deli, which handily for me, is also directly opposite the newly opened Pop-Up shop.

So, clutching my bag containing my ‘nice tartlet’ and other goodies, I wandered into the waiting crowd at the official opening. There were lots of smiling faces and a vibe of energy running through the place, as producers, customers and local dignitaries gathered round to browse, chat, promote, network, and nibble on the free snacks (also provided by Pronto).

Once the photos were done and the ribbon cut, we all filed back in to the sound of Dominic Morgan (the hardest working musician in the North from what I can tell – check out his fantastic acoustic numbers here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dom-Morgan/411516972218221?fref=ts), and continued our joyful perusing.

Image

First stop, for multiple reasons, was the wonderful Miscos chocolates stand, (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk). I say multiple reasons because a) I love their chocolates and wanted to bag myself a salted-caramel cup, and b) because ‘Cisco’ from ‘Miscos’ is the bassist in my band and I wanted to let him know how the set up was going, and c) because Meg & Cisco from Miscos are very good friends of mine and I’ve watched them build up this amazing business, and helped out where I can. The fixture looked amazing, as you can see:

Image

After that, I started my quick scanning of the rest of the wares. I’ve spoke to Marc about the whole set up before, hoping that if it continues long enough I may well start my own book-stand to sell a few of my upcoming self-published titles. He told me about the many and diverse local producers in the area that he has discovered thanks to the cooperation that has emerged out of the ‘totally locally’ campaign. That was certainly evidenced here, and this is only the first brave batch of traders to have a pop at the pop-up format.

From clothing (I particularly like the ‘Choose Leek’ range, see below), to jewellery, haberdashery, a great range of craft cards and gifts (I bought myself a modest little notebook and badge set from the fun and cheerful ‘Crap Cat’ range, below) and even the odd bit of local publications and art from the ‘Borderland Voices’ group (http://www.borderlandvoices.org.uk/). Plus a whole lot more that I had neither the time or memory to list here for now. Just go and see it, that’s the best way.

Image

Image

IMG_0420

So, after my quick browse, purchase, snacks and salted caramel cup (yes!), I left them to it so I could walk back along the historic market town  of Leek to my practice room and get on with the job of recording. It was perfect timing. Our producer relished his tartlet, I got to see the pop-up shop, and a great evening of recording lay ahead of me.

These kind of days happen in Leek all the time. You pop out for something and you see something else. It may be one of the many Markets (the fine-food market every first Sunday is a must…), or the local, independent restaurants, cafe’s, pubs and shops that are working together to show what high-streets can and should look like. They are defying the odds when you look at the topography of Leek only to see it is surrounded on all sides by massive national/global supermarkets, all trying to turn every town into a boring carbon-copy vision of a generic shopping-hell future, undercutting prices and sapping character from every corner of the country. But not in Leek, not yet, and hopefully not ever. Not while we have the cooperation and enthusiasm of the local producers working with each-other and the council (when possible) to stage events, offer local discounts, start pop-up shops (hopefully one of many to come), put on amazing markets and generally just be a cool place for a day out, or (if you can convince your fiancé to move there, which I’m working on), a life lived.

Where else can you… (in no particular order):

  • Grab a slice of stone-baked pizza over a continental larger… (The Napoli. http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)
  • Try the rare-bread meat’s, artisan bread, chocolates, and local brew beers on your way through town (Fine food market)
  • Drop into a few antique centres, just for the fun of it if you like, they’re always interesting places, full of little treasures (the many antique centres)
  • Freshen up with a Belgian beer or two (Den Engels Belgian Bar)
  • Drop in and browse a selection of wares from local producers in a friendly and colourful atmosphere (totally locally pop-up – https://www.facebook.com/TotallyLocallyLeek)
  • Grab a posh-oatcake and choose from dozens of real ales from the good people of Titanic brewery (The Roebuck)
  • Have a coffee, see an exhibition, or catch a few bands in the historic ‘Foxlowe’ community arts centre (http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/) (The Situation – original music nights every month at the Foxlowe, amongst other events, https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815?fref=ts).
  • Pop into a wine tasting evening (http://www.wineandwhisky.com/), drop in to the Deli for a ‘nice tartlet’ and wander over to the beautiful park for a sit down, drink and a snack…

These are just a few things that spring to mind, there are lots more, and it’s only a small place! I know other towns also do or are starting to do this kind of thing, I just hope they all follow through on the experience and bring this laid-back yet skilled and productive continental style brand of localism to the whole nation. (I secretly cheer a little inside every time I hear of another multi-national chain store going into administration. That model is broken and if we keep up with doing it ourselves and supporting local producers, maybe even the MPs will take note and start reducing the over-inflated business rates fixed by the mass-buying power of the faceless corporations… you never know).

So another great day in Leek. If you’ve not been, visit. If you want to know about the ‘Totally Locally’ model, feel free to contact the guys through the links provided in this article, they are all about best practice and idea sharing, and maybe you can make a Leek of your own, in your own town, supporting your neighbours and local traders, providing skilled and independent jobs, making the high street a nice place to be again.

Well done Leek. Keep it up.

Advertisements

Live music is alive in Leek

This bank holiday I had the pleasure of attending and performing at ‘The Situation’s Big May Birthday’ event held at the Foxlowe arts centre in Leek.

For those not local or aware of those words what I have just said, ‘The Situation’ is a live music promotion group based in Leek, spearheaded by Simon Edwards and Steve Hamersley. The ‘Foxlowe’ is a beautiful 18th Century manor-house type thing (note the precise architectural analysis here…?) which was remodelled in the early 20th Century and is a grade II listed building. Leek is a small market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands at the foot of the peak district.

So, now you know what I’m talking about, I can take each in turn. ‘The Situation’ have been going for several years now, hosting regular events at various venues, always pushing to get live and original music back into people’s social schedule. I first played one of their nights around four years ago at the now closed ‘White Swan’ (a beautiful old building with a great function hall, which has alas been sold to Wetherspoons so they can come in and leech as much character and personality from the building and surrounding area as possible, but that’s another story) with my former band ‘sMelt’, and as I remember, it was well attended and a great night was had by all. Since then, like all ventures, they have had their fair share of challenges, from poor attendance, to sound set-up, to venues being closed etc… but they have relentlessly continued building up their name and reputation, seeking out new bands and civilizations, and going boldly where no local promotion company has gone before. Excuse me, went a bit Trek then.

Well last Sunday’s ‘birthday bash’, featuring 19 acts in 12 hours over three stages, I think, was their defining moment so far. The culmination of their persistence and passion to get things moving, the day was well ran, well attended, showcased a dazzling array of local, national and even international  bands (some Canadians in the form of Fist City added this element) and the sound was spot on. I will briefly mention that the weather was also beautiful, which is fortuitous, but I don’t think Simon and Steve can take credit for that unless they have fostered some secret mad shamanistic skills I’m not aware of. They had the excellent idea of setting up two stages at each end of the main hall so that as one band played, the other set up, keeping the day on schedule, punchy and joined up throughout. In the early stages they kept it to acoustic acts set up outside on the Foxlowe’s beautiful exterior patio and grounds which gave the early audience chance to settle in, relax, and break themselves into a day that picked up pace from about 4pm onwards with the onset of the ‘ping pong’ bands in the main room stages.

So yes, this was a good day for live music and a good day for Leek. I’m unqualified really to review the acts, I’m a musician not a reviewer, but it was an eclectic mix, ranging from the angelic tones of acoustic act Dominic Morgan (a young local lad who plays everywhere he can – he has an amazing work ethic and voice, he will go far) to the femme punk catchy-bastard sounds of ‘Hooker’, the excellent and raucous ‘Fist City’ (with their army of tiny supporters), the prog-folk Strauss & Strauss ( I think I just invented that genre?), and of course, my band Gravity Dave. Not to mention the excellent Gasoline Thrills, The Downloads, Vertigo Fish, Health Junkies and all the other brilliant bands that dominated the day with new, live and original music.

In a Kevin Costner moment, Steve & Simon told me, “If you build it, they will come”, which has been their philosophy from the outset and is now paying dividends. All I could see was happy faces, all I could hear was new and exciting music, and they had a good few titanic real-ales on to boot, which is always a good thing. So well done one and all. It can be done and it has been.

It makes sense because in Leek there seems to be a disproportionate amount of bands and artists for the size of the place, and thankfully, a similarly disproportionate number of pubs, several of which are capable of hosting live music. However, the scourge of cover bands tends to make up the larger part of local music, and there is a whole section of Leek (the Market place) which at night is turned over to a weird kind of mini city-centre bar/club life, inhabited by many fighty and shouty people, shepherded and watched over by the best part of the moorlands police force each Friday and Saturday night. I should add here, that the ‘Foxlowe’ used to be one such venue under the guise ‘The V Bar’ – which was noted for its sticky carpets, crap music and fighting. Since then, it has been bought by a community group who have turned it into the most excellent arts centre, cafe and venue, demonstrating that it can be done, communities can reclaim their culture from the lowest common denominator. Which is why it needs the rest of us (I would argue, the vast majority of) none shouty-fighty people to organise and attend nights like this. Unfortunately, venues are being lost and Leek suffers from a lack of transport links and accommodation to open it up as a regular night-spot for live music lovers. Some of the accommodation may soon be answered by the development of  a Premier Inn, unfortunately at the loss of yet another old, vast and interesting building (The Talbot), but at least it could make Leek a weekend destination, and if it does, I think live music should be at the forefront of its tourism trade, along with its excellent artisan and independent shops, markets and real ale pubs. There is even talk of the train lines re-opening, linking it to Stoke station, and therefore the rest of the country, which economically would put Leek back on the map. Fingers crossed the council don’t  mess it up.

I’ve also had the pleasure of being involved in an annual music-festival in Leek, ‘Leek Summer Jam’ which has ran for four years and played host to thousands of guests, hundreds of acts and generated income for dozens of local businesses. We’re having a year off this year while we decide what to do next, but it makes me breathe easy knowing that that there are guys like ‘The Situation’ still keeping the flag flying for live music and arts in Leek, and the country – many of the bands playing on Sunday were from all over the country, including Manchester and London, so as the words gets out, the ethos of Leek’s love for live music should spread across the UK, and who knows, maybe the world! (well there was that Canadian band… and an Irish chap…)

So I’ll sign off now after having the pleasure of writing a positive article about something well conceived, well executed, and of real value to the culture of Staffordshire and the country in general.

Links:

The Situation FB Page. You should find all the info you need about the bands mentioned and links:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815

The Foxlowe website:

http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/

Leek arts festival website (ongoing throughout May – but this kind of event would have happened either way, still, check out what’s on):

http://leekartsfestival.co.uk/

And of course, my band’s website:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

All the acts:

Image