Richard Harrison has lived in Coventry for 17 years, he works here at Warwick as a CRM Manager.
When I’m not working as the CRM Manager within External Affairs painstakingly writing emails to persuade students to apply to and join Warwick, I like to wind down and enjoy as much of Coventry’s culture as possible, as you see in my recent blog post for Coventry 2021. However, just enjoying events isn’t enough for me and I like to get involved and organise them, which generally means painstakingly writing emails to persuade artists and audience to come to things. Some lunchtimes it’s like driving on the M1, stopping for a break at Watford Gap, playing on Gran Turismo in the arcades, before getting back on the road.
I’m involved in a few activities that I like to think add something to the pot pourri of things that will win the bid for us.
Pecha Kucha Nights. What? How do you pronounce that? Wrongly as it turns out after 5 years. It’s Pe-chak-cha. Japanese for chit-chat, PK was created by Klein Dyson architects in Japan who needed a way to stop their staff waffling on about their projects for too long. A PK presentation takes the form of 20 images (Powerpoint slides) that move on after 20 seconds whether you are ready or not. We have artists, creatives, musicians, teachers, sportspeople and general weirdos who spend 6m40s telling about their life, work and loves. It’s always a an eclectic, often hilarious, very inspirational and regularly emotional evening. We have around 8-10 speakers each evening (4 times a year) at The Tin in the Canal Basin, and we enjoy thinking and drinking.
There is a theme each time, with Simple Pleasures on April 4th, 8pm (hint), but the talk tend to tinker round the edges sometimes, but that’s ok…it’s a relaxed affair and even the most nervous speakers feel supported and often return (I’ve only presented once…urgh). You can watch previous presentations to get you in the mood, come along then sign up to speak!
Comfy and Acoustic at The Big Comfy Bookshop in Fargo Village. My friend Michael inspired and shocked us 2 years ago when he quit his desk job with a regular salary to open up a second-hand bookshop in Coventry when so many other businesses were closing down. However, it’s working and he’s still there and as ‘cheery’ as ever (he has a bit of Bernard Black reputation). Michael would be the first to admit though that it’s not really books that put the coins in the till, it’s a combination of his excellent locally baked cakes, locally brewed beer and his events. Comfy and Acoustic is just one of them, but the most regular and well-known. We started by approaching local musicians to come and play in the shop (which can hold about 40 comfortably) and the old favourites like Wes Finch, Stylusboy and Shanade did. Now, 18 months later Michael is inundated with artists asking to perform at one of the bi-monthly nights and not selling out is now more common than begging for an audience. There are still local artists that perform there, as one of the 3 acts each fortnight but we’ve had international musicians and mega-stars (Mark Morriss from The Bluetones has been twice!). Now it’s so popular my main role is making the posters and working the door, grrr don’t mess with me.
Big Comfy Sessions are a separate hobby that happened to evolve along with the acoustic nights. They were the brainchild of Rob Bridge, fellow amateur photographer from Nuneaton who has rapidly found he can be more than amateur, and Michael and I met with him a couple of years ago to work out how to: promote the bookshop, promote the underrepresented and undiscovered artists we all shared a love of, and hang around with cool musicians. The sessions are very informal affairs and involve a short interview with the artist(s), one original song and one cover version…popped onto YouTube and shared as much as possible. We do this for no money, once or twice a month, when the shop is quiet but open and only with musicians we really love. My roles are to film with a couple of cameras, and ‘populate the artist pipeline’, so more emailing! I get to send speculative emails to musicians from across the country and ask them to pop into Coventry on their way up or down the M1 to gigs…and sometimes they even come to the shop just for us. Some musicians ignore my mails (Damien Rice has yet to reply), some love the idea but find it hard to fit in (we have a waiting list with some ‘big’ names on) but many can’t accept quick enough. I now have to spend more time turning artists down than saying yes, which is great for us but painful to do.
I’d love to see you in the Bookshop or down at The Tin but whatever you do this Spring and Summer, get out into Coventry and discover the culture, some is hidden in old coal vaults but it’s there…and tweet about it using @Coventry2021 #ThisIsCoventry. Let’s show these judges!
What can a city like Coventry REALLY do in a year of culture?
This latest blog has been taken from Richard's blog 'thespoonfamilyrobinson'.
You can’t get away from people these daysbanging on about how we are going to beat 10 other cities to the title of UK City of Culture in 2021. We all know Coventry doesn’t have culture right? I see people saying that all the time on Facebook and the bottom half of the internet of the Coventry Telegraph site. Paisley is going to win coz we need to keep Scotland sweet, St David’s NEED £1,600 of investment PER resident, Coventry is boring…all that kind of guff.
So I thought I’d see just what culture (if any) the Family Spoon had stumbled across in just the last 12 months. Using only Google Photos as my guide and looking what I’ve taken photos of since 5th March 2016. Probably only a few snaps of a manky park or a broken fountain right?
Apparently we spent the last twelve months:
- Partying for my daughter’s 8th birthday and having a treasure hunt around the magnificent Memorial Park
- Swaying at one of many acoustic gigs at the Big Comfy Bookshop
- Watching Ian Cook make jaw dropping art with remote control cars at his Pop Bang Colour HQ at Fargo Village
- Travelling round the world at Theatre Absolute with one of a bundle of shows as part of a festival (so many happen I can’t remember the name)
- Watching Nick Barker blow up some balloons with a Chemistry family lecture to raise money for Warwick in Africa
- Enjoying Tilly performing at Sprungsters - Highly Sprung’s weekend physical theatre classes
- Racing on Mario Kart whilst supping a world’s best Bubble Tea at Bubble Boba at Fargo
- Taking on the yoof at the skate park in Memorial Park
- Making glow in the dark structures with carrots at the Transport Museum
- Munching on the special kid’s afternoon teas at Mocha Lounge in Allesley Park (soon to reopen)
- Being wowed by a group of local amateurs performing live Romeo & Juliet in Broadgate, what was made by BBC Coventry & Warwickshire and me wife
- Enjoying the smiling faces at the Looked After Children open air cinema organised by the amazing Fiona Linton
- Watching many street performers that pop up in town including a slacklining violin player and a junk drummer
- Going on our yearly pilgrimage to Earlsdon Festival which mainly involves eating amazing street food
- Recording a pot pourri of Big Comfy Sessions with talented musicians from across the globe
- Stuffing more food in our faces at Digbeth Dining Club in the cathedral ruins
- Played at pretty much every park in the city, but still some to discover
- Staring for hours at the Grayson Perry tapestries in The Herbert
- Geeking out at Board Game Night at the Big Comfy Bookshop
- Watching the Honey Badgers amateur ice hockey team slam another opponent at the Sky Dome
- Getting blown away by the sublime Ry X at Warwick Arts Centre
- Getting hunted by aliens amongst 1,001 other activities at Warwick Arts Centre Family Weekend
- Staring at tiny dioramas in an abandoned container outside Coventry University
- Petrolheading at the world premiere of the Aston Martin Vulcan and stock cars racing round the ring road at Motofest
- Being delightfully baffled by art rock band Swoomptheeng as part of Ludic Rooms’ Random String Festival
- Politicising with Eddie Izzard at a free Brexit gig at Warwick Arts Centre
- Sailing and singing with Son of Town Hall at The Tin
- Drowning whilst supporting the Aviva Women’s Tour as they cycled through the University of Warwick
- Hunting for fairy doors in Allesley Park
- Hanging out at the fabulous Allesley Park Library, not just books but tunnels and activities!
- Watching dancing JCBs, and listening to tales in a caravan at the launch of the 2021 bid during Godiva Festival
- Rocking out with the Boomtown Rats and Space at the Godiva Festival proper, slurping down sno-cones and chilling with the cop’s cop Kerry Blakeman
- Ice skating at the Sky Dome with the kids and the penguins
- Attending the red carpet showing of the BFG at Warwick Arts Centre complete with snozzcumber sandwiches and frobscottle
- Playing with our favourite blocks at The Herbert and the room of delight stuffed with explorable constructions every school holiday
- Marvelling at the amazing Lego Brick Wonders exhibition (FOR FREE!!) at The Herbert
- Animating at an inspiring Animate This workshop at Fargo Village
- Finding and hiding one of hundreds of Geocaches in our little city
- Riding the perfectly unchanged roundabout in the market
- Touring the Charterhouse and Lunt Roman Fort during Heritage Open Weekend
- Stumbling across the New York Brass Band in Broadgate as part of no event whatsoever…just because
- Staring slack-jawed at the beautiful Urban Astronaut flying around cathedral square
- Sauntering during my lunch hour and discovering new sculptures around the Warwick campus
- Dancing like loons to the incredible Hope & Social and local star Shanade at The Tin
- Getting the Masterji treatment at the first exhibition by 94 year local photographer in the Box at Fargo Village
- Thinking and drinking at one of the 4 Pecha Kucha nights at The Tin
- Watching out for giant owls and mustached devils in Broadgate during the celebrations of Dia de los Muertes
- Saxing with Fleur East at the heaving Christmas Lights switch on party
- More Chemistry fun at the University of Warwick Christmas Lectures
- Feeding the swans and running the grounds at Coombe Abbey, more than once
- Learning amazing knife skills and being shown I can cook fish and LIKE it by Will at the 75 Company in Earlsdon
- Sailing away with the Owl and the Pussycat at the Belgrade Theatre
and that’s just within the city walls (ish), let alone jaunts to other amazing gigs, exhibitions and events in nearby Leamington, Compton Verney and even Birmingham, and JUST what my Google Photos tell me we did…even I don’t snap everything so bet there is MUCH MORE.
This blog is taken from one Richard wrote to support Coventry's City of Culture bid in June 2016.
When I first heard that Coventry was considering bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2021 I wasn’t surprised but I did think ‘hell yeah’. Next year will be a big milestone for my Coventry love affair, I will have lived here for longer than I’ve lived anywhere, including my wellspring of Yorkshire. So, why did my blood turn from gravy to sky blue?
I was ‘sent to Coventry’ due to getting a graduate job at Marconi and moved down here not knowing anything apart from that phrase. Over the last 17 years I’ve seen Coventry change and with it my opinion and my attraction to the old girl.
So, why should Coventry win the title and what would it mean for us?
I have to promote the city as part of my job, recruiting students for Warwick, so have to convince young people to be excited to move here, and colleagues to shout about it as much as me. When I’m asked what is the best thing about Cov I always point to the music, the theatre, the events and the people. I mean, I love brutalist 60s architecture as much as the next man but it’s always the culture I return to.
The city doesn’t shout about itself, it teases but makes you work to discover its jewels. This is in line with the need to explore to find ‘medieval Cov’ too, you never know what’s hiding behind, or underneath, that ‘ugly’ council building. I urge people to seek out the history and you’ll be amazed.
The recent Heritage Open Days showed us rooms in the old cathedral we’d walked past for 17 years, secret crypts, bits of wall and the back of Godiva’s horse. So, we have historical culture in spades, but we sometimes need spades to uncover it.
The more recent culture is all around us in Coventry. I think you could enjoy some local music every night of the week. I’ve been privileged over the last few years to get to know some of our talent that deserve to be loved by a much wider audience. Most of them however have the Cov trait of modesty, but a trip to The Big Comfy Folk Club, The Tin, The Nursery Tavern, Playwrights, Warwick Arts Centre or one of myriad other venues and you will find something surprising and delightful. We even cater for major rock acts that literally set the Ricoh Arena on fire and for such a ‘small’ city that’s no mean feat. We need the Capital of Culture to help us share our music with the country.
Even if music isn’t your thing then you can find some amazing theatre happening in the strangest of places. An old fish and chip shop? yup, let’s have Theatre Absolute’s shop front theatre. The cathedral ruins? a perfect location for open air mystery plays. And if there isn’t anything on in the well renowned Belgrade Theatre or Warwick Arts Centre, or less well known Albany Theatre, or delightfully low key Criterion then take to the streets and catch Coventry’s own amazing theatre groups, Talking Birds, Highly Sprung, Imagineer Productions, Mercurial Dance, Vortex Creates and many more my word limit won’t allow. Where else could you see a 9 metre tall Lady Godiva bringing the city to a standstill, a metal whale full of stories, 1.5km of huge dominoes crashing through the shopping centre and MUCH much more? London? Liverpool? Bristol? maybe, but we have had all this in modest Cov. Who knew? not enough people….let’s show ‘em all!
I have to wave a flag for our museums and art galleries too. The Herbert is a place our kids love going, even when there isn’t an exciting exhibition on (which is rare), just to run around in the amazing space or taking part in their seemingly continuous programme of craft activities. The recent Children’s Television exhibition shouted up above the rest though and got our city noticed! You can then wander a few hundred metres and end up in the Transport Museum, which was always great but after the huge redevelopment, is now unquestionably world class. More art at Warwick Arts Centre again (3 mentions and not just because I work there ;o) with the Mead Gallery and we now have The Box at Fargo Village, a new space already making people set off to discover our very own Camden Market.
So, music, theatre, art, dance, museums, street performances…the fastest car in the world (not strictly culture but she’s so beautiful she’s a work of art), the home of Two-Tone, Europe’s first city centre Ikea? we just can’t stop being groundbreaking (you never know we might find a new crypt or WWII bomb).
And these are just the things that are easy to Google and you might find in a tourist information leaflet. There are weird and wonderful things happening round every corner that come, delight and then leave. Shop windows that dance when you walk past them courtesy of Ludic Rooms, flashmobs teaching you how to queue properly, the Big Comfy Sessionsbringing international stars to record music videos in a bookshop, happy memories of Coventrians being turned into a musical, a Fortnight of mysterious adventures for the brave…and the things you just can’t explain like the very active Pecha Kucha Nights. Blink and you’ll miss them but they live on in our hearts.
So, what would the City of Culture 2021 mean to Coventry? not much, we do all this anyway. But it IS about time that the rest of country, hell the world, moved the spotlight onto the city and we could finally remove ‘that phrase’ from the urban dictionary. “Sent? no…I ran there with open arms”.
Read Richard's blog