Long gone are the days when Nottingham was best known as the city that hauled a local record store boss in front of magistrates for displaying the Sex Pistols’ album Never Mind The Bollocks. Today’s city is multi-cultural, vibrant and buzzing – with promoters and events to match. Allan Glen reports
It’s not the fact that Nottingham has produced two international acts in as many years that makes it special.
It’s not even because a renowned national promoter has its HQ in the city.
“Things are good at the moment,” says Anton Lockwood, director for live at DHP Family.
“Nottingham has got the venues – an arena, a concert hall, Rock City and a range of clubs – so all the right rooms are already here.”
That begs the question, if Nottingham has the infrastructure already, how does it grow?
Fortunately, Lockwood, and many others in the city, have a masterplan, and a very simple one: nurture new talent, encourage musical diversity and creative people.
“It’s now about encouraging more and more people to come here and growing the community that way,” says Lockwood. “One of the good things about the scene here is you’ve got a young funk-soul singer like Yazmin Lacey, and you’ve got some guys like Sleaford Mods, in their mid-40s, with their political poetry.”
As for the future of DHP, Lockwood says the promoter, festival organiser and multi-venue owner is always looking for waysto expand.
In addition to owning Rock City (cap. 1,900, 278), Rescue Rooms (450, 120), Bodega (220) and Stealth (220), the company also runs local festival Splendour (20,000), which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, with performances from Paloma Faith, The Charlatans and Marc Almond, while its multi-city, multi-venue event Dot To Dot [4,000] reached its biggest Nottingham audience to date this year.
“Dot To Dot is typical of how we work,” says Lockwood. “We started it in Nottingham but now we’ve taken it to Bristol and Manchester and they are all doing great.
“So for now it’s a matter of keeping improving what we do in venues, and improving the quality of the programming. It’s also important for us to encourage new talent as well. A few years ago we had a real breakthrough with Jake Bugg and then we had people like Dog Is Dead and Saint Raymond coming through.
“And now there is another wave of artistes breaking, people such as Ady Suleiman and Yazmin Lacey. That’s a very important part of what is currently going on in the city.”
As an example of how the music scene has grown organically in Nottingham, Lockwood points to online music magazine Nusic, supported by BBC Introducing, DHP and Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, which is opening a new 350-capacity venue in the city, more of which later.
“Nusic is a group of people coming together to grow the indigenous scene,” he explains. “It’s been around for a while, but these things take time. Someone like Jake Bugg came four years ago and it’s only now we’re seeing the people who were inspired by him emerging.”
Acts currently playing Rock City include Pale Waves, Editors, New Model Army, Less Than Jake, (all DHP promotions) and Jorja Smith (Live Nation Entertainment and SJM Concerts), with Therapy, Night Café, Mahalia, Nick Mulvey and Black Honey (all DHP) performing in Rescue Rooms.
As well as co-promoting (with Kilimanjaro Live) the recent run of stadium shows for Ed Sheeran, DHP also promotes national tours for acts such as The War on Drugs, James Blunt and Garbage, and owns London venues The Garage (600), Borderline (300) and Oslo (350), and the Thekla (350) in Bristol.
The city’s Motorpoint Arena (10,337) is the largest venue in the East Midlands region.
“Most international acts play the arena at some point, and when they’re on stage many artistes refer to playing the likes of Rock City early in their career,” says the arena’s marketing and sales director Sharon Lordan. “It’s great that we can welcome acts back to Nottingham, when they’re at the height of their success to play our arena.”
While one of the smaller arenas in the country, the venue is popular with a wide range of artistes.
“That enables us to deliver intimate events and allows artistes who are looking to start performing on the arena circuit, but who are not sure how it will go, to try it out here,” says Lordan.
“Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars are just two artistes who played here before going out on major tours.”
Acts playing the venue include Queen and Adam Lambert, with tickets at £77.28 (Phil McIntyre Entertainments), The Vamps at £14, Liam Gallagher (£40.88), Def Leppard (£42), Jeff Lynne’s ELO (£56) – all Live Nation Entertainment (LNE) promotions; Jess Glynne (£37.30), Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (£39.20), Paloma Faith (£39.20) – all SJM Concerts; Don Broco (£26.10, Kilimanjaro Live), Mariah Carey (£51.30, Cuffe & Taylor) and Culture Club (£53.20, The MJR Group).
“Nottingham sells really well for mainstream pop events, metal/rock bands, and legendary acts such as Rod Stewart and 80s/90s acts too,” adds Lordan. “Equally, acts such as Andre Rieu sell out every year so the people of Nottingham like a broad range of music.
“Ticket sales are relatively strong at the present time, although sales are always much quieter over the summer months,” she adds. “So we’re sure we’ll see an uplift once the festival season is over.”
At mid-range level, artistes can choose from two very distinct venues, depending on their requirements, the Royal Concert Hall (2,500) – an imposing building located in the centre of the city, and Nottingham Trent University Students Union, home to The Level (1,200) and The Loft (225).
Operated by Nottingham City Council, the concert hall has recently undergone a major refurbishment, which included improvements to the entrance and foyer bars.
Its size, location and facilities ensure a steady run of artistes, with Sleaford Mods, Sir Cliff Richard, Steve Hackett and Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets performing in the venue.
Over at the university, acts playing The Level include the Topman tour, featuring Peace, Clean Cut Kid and Will Joseph Cook (in-house), and Dermot Kennedy, Marika Hackman and Gus Apperton, who performed as part of Dot To Dot (DHP). Those playing in The Loft include The Fallen State, The Cruel Knives and Over The Influence.
“As we continue to build our live music programme, we’re finding a want for more live music among students and the general public,” says entertainments manager Laura Pearson. “There has always been a fantastic buzz in the underground scene in Nottingham, which I think fuels the wider live industry in the city.”
With similar venues in Birmingham and Cardiff, The Glee Club (450, 175), which opened in Nottingham in 2010, is a multi-arts space hosting around 50 live music shows a year, in addition to 200-plus events including comedy gigs, spoken-word nights and performance poetry.
“The mix we have between the different performances is what makes The Glee special,” says in-house promoter Markus Sargeant. “The intimacy of the venue is something artistes often remark upon, and because we are across music, comedy and spoken-word we have to keep the venue in really good shape.
“As a result we have invested heavily in sound, lights and staff. Also, I always really feel that artistes connect with their audience at The Glee, and we know not every venue is like that.”
Being able to offer a seated-capacity of 350 also helps, adds Sargeant.
“With The Glee celebrating its eighth birthday this year I’m really proud of the way the venues are built and we either get it bang-on or very close, in that we can create the show the artiste wants to present, and the audience wants to hear and experience,” he says. “We do a lot of pin-drop shows.”
Acts playing the venue include Stephen Lynch, Lucy Rose (both AEG Live), Glen Tilbrook (DHP), Boyzlife (MJR), Duke Special, The Bootleg Beatles, Stone Foundation, REM by Stipe and Tom Baxter (all in-house).
New kid on the block
While all the aforementioned venues are well established, new to the market is Metronome (350). Billed as a ‘cross-media’ centre, it opens in October and has been designed, built and created by the team behind the Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies.
Acts currently booked to play the venue, located in the creative quarter, include The Invisible Orchestra, BCUC, The Seshen, Acid Mothers Temple, Anchorsong and The Breath (all in-house), with ticket prices ranging from £7-£20.
“As the venue has been purpose-built, it means we’ve been able to look at features we feel make a great experience for acts such as easy ground floor load-in, full accessibility and high-spec dressing rooms and showers,” says Kristi Genovese, in-house promoter.
Metronome is also, she adds, run by a team of former tour and artiste managers, and includes recording studios and 14 rehearsal spaces.
“It’s been built by musicians for musicians,” she says. “We have lots of experience working with acts, and come from a place of passion and knowledge.”
Operating at a similar capacity is Nottingham Contemporary (300), which hosts up to 20 live music shows a year in genres such as electronic, rock, folk, ska and reggae. It also hosts orchestras and experimental music.
“Bands can perform in our largest gig area, The Space, or in our newly refurbished bar area ,” says Laura-Jade Vaughan, marketing manager at the venue, which opened in 2009.
“We have significant lighting and AV systems, meaning we can deliver immersive sound, visuals and lighting to enhance performances.”
Among the acts playing the venue are Rae Morris, The Black Queen, 65 Days of Static (all DHP) and Church of the Cosmic Skull (in-house).
Here not there
As is often the case in smaller cities, independent promoters working at grassroots level are the lifeblood of a scene and Nottingham is no different, with Will Robinson of I’m Not From London (INFL) and multi-venue event the Hockley Hustle proving integral to creating a cohesive community around live music in the area.
The oft-misused phrase fingers in many pies is an apposite description of the INFL. Music publisher, label and promoter – Robinson and his team put on around 20 shows a month at a variety of venues, as he explains, “Some of these are resident venue nights, some are ones we put on for bands on our label and publishing rosters.
“Others are bands that we like that are touring or band-release gigs and parties, while some are corporate shows for the council, shopping centres and blue chip clients.”
Like most independent operators working in the mid-range, trying to book buzz acts from national agents presents a whole other set of challenges.
“As a smaller independent promoter it’s hard to book bands once they get on a booking agent’s roster as the major ones are often tied to the larger venues, whereas in other less musically-established cities things can be a bit more free and open.”
Robinson, however, is another promoter who believes there is huge potential in the city.
“From a punter’s perspective there are 20-plus decent gigs going on within two miles of each other,” he says. “Acts such as Def Leppard and Mariah Carey will be playing the arena while Sleaford Mods or Idles rock Rock City. Then you have your studio spaces like JT Soar  happening every night where you can bring your own beer and watch a DIY punk band from Philadelphia.”
Acts INFL promoted include Sharkmuffin, No Nothings and Blood Head in The Angel Microbrewery (120), Avalanche Party in the Bodega, The Shrives in Cow Nottingham (60), The Deadcuts in The Golden Fleece (135) and Chambers in JT Soar.
One event that captures the community spirit of Nottingham is the annual Hockley Hustle (2,000), a one-day charity festival that takes place across 40 venues, including Bodega, Rough Trade (200) and Nottingham Contemporary.
Started in 2006, last year organisers added the Young Hustle, which runs on the same day, in venues such as Nottingham Contemporary and City Arts (180), and includes performance workshops and live music for under 18s.
“A lot of the people who are involved with Hockley Hustle don’t necessarily always talk to each other throughout the year, so this is a great way for everyone in the city to come together,” says promoter Tommy Rosley.
“It’s a real community event.”
Big local presence
‘Run by music fans, for music fans’ is how Nottingham-based ticketing firm Gigantic describes itself.
“Our support team in the office are DJs, promoters and in bands,” says business development and marketing manager Simon Carpenter.
“If we’re not working at an event, show or gig then we’re there for the fun of it.”
Working with venues from 100-capacity upwards, among them JT Soar (60), Metronome, The Maze (150), The Chapel at The Angel Microbrewery (110) and Rough Trade (200),
Gigantic also works on events with Nottingham City Council. It also has a close relationship with DHP, supporting its ticketing platform.
“Bands and promoters want their Nottingham show listed with us due to our influence and significant contacts around the city,” adds Carpenter. “Our work with events such as the multi-venue event Hockley Hustle, where we sponsor the wristbands and provide staff for the event, demonstrates our commitment to the Nottingham scene.”
Since Gigantic launched in 2007, the company has experienced huge growth – in 2017 alone there was a 38 per cent increase in volume ticket sales and a 17 per cent increase in turnover, while it has sold a total of 3.5m tickets in the past six years.
The optimism on display from local promoters can also be seen in companies such as Gigantic, which has expansion plans of its own.
“We have some really exciting marketing and development projects in the pipeline, which makes for a really positive 12 months for Gigantic,” says Carpenter.