Coventry is bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2021. Here’s my take on the city, it’s culture and my (vanishingly small) part in it.
I have a confession: I’m not a Coventry kid. I grew up over on the other side of Birmingham, in the Black Country. So, as is probably often the case for people from all over the Midlands, my first encounters with Coventry were entirely cultural. The mandatory educational trip to the Cathedral as a child, trips over from Birmingham in the early ’90s with the rock band that I was a member of, seeing gigs and scouting for venues to play, visits to the Motor Museum with my own kids years later.
About a dozen years ago we moved here for good, my work having gradually migrated here and there being very little reason to not follow it. For the first few years, we were just busy getting settled, building a home, getting married, putting down roots. But very gradually, Coventry did the thing that it does so very well: if you’re of an even remotely creative or community-minded bent, it’ll find you, it’ll take you in, it’ll embrace you and it won’t let you go.
Here’s my story of how this happened to me. Not just once, but again and again. Bear in mind as you read this that this is just my experience as a contributor to the cultural life of my adopted home. As a consumer, I could go on for weeks about the art and the music and the venues and the theatre and the food and the parties and the events and the festivals… but you can read Mr Spoon’s blog for all of that, because he’s already done a damn good job on that front. This is me rambling about my stuff, because it’s (hopefully) a bit of a different perspective and a different experience. So here, for your delectation and delight, are Some Exhibits From My Actual Life of Cultural Stuff What I Have Been Involved In, In Coventry, So There.
Exhibit A: The Crisis Car
I bought a cheap, 20-year-old rag-top sports car & joined a local owners’ club in order to learn how to fix all the things that were wrong with it. Next thing I know, I’m attending vintage car shows all over Warwickshire and taking part in the MotoFest. Coventry’s like that; if you’re into a thing, it has a whole bunch of people who are also into that thing, and you’ll just get carried along.
Exhibit B: Wheels Spin, And So Do Decks
Mrs Morocco learned to skate and joined a Roller Derby League. Not even in Coventry. Fast forward a couple of years: I’m refereeing a Coventry City Roller Derby game at the Sports Centre on Fairfax Street. And then when I’m not doing that, I’m DJ-ing games, because I own some music and know how the game format works. Not in Birmingham, where my “home” league was based, but in Coventry. Because… well, cultural gravitational forces, is all I can assume. Once it’s got you, it’s got you.
Also: when your better half learns to skate, you damn well better learn to skate. Even if you’re 43 at the time. And when your other half takes up Roller Derby, you’d better damn well learn the rules and start reffing, because… well, hubbies and boyfriends ref, basically.
And by the way – if anyone tries to tell you that Roller Derby comes under the heading of Sport rather than Culture, they’ve obviously never been to a game. There’s music and cake. Music + cake = culture, everyone knows that. Music + cake + awesome contact sports = something indescribably entertaining that is like Schrodinger’s Cat in its ability to be two things at once. “Spulture”, I’m going to call it, and no-one can stop me. Go to a game and see for yourself.
Speaking of DJ-ing: So, as a result of doing Roller Derby gigs, I became a DJ. And then, suddenly, I’m doing weddings and parties all over Coventry and Warwickshire. And then I’m DJ-ing from the top of a double-decker bus (that also just happens to be a pub) at Fargo Village. And at Urban Coffee. And at art exhibitions. Oh, and at The Herbert. Three times. And at the Earlsdon Festival. Twice.
And I didn’t imagine I’d do any of this. I’ve no idea how I got that far with it. But I bet the City had something to do with it.
Exhibit C: A Noisy Noise Annoys
A few years ago Mrs Morocco had a really nasty road traffic accident and I found myself at home for a bundle of months looking after her. In order to not go completely mental in the (very quiet) evenings and as part of my own therapy to get over all the fear and panic and stress, I dived back into something I’d not done for years – I sat down and made some music.
Fast forward to now: gigs in a handful of venues around the city, one album, 2 EPs (one of which even has a Coventry landmark as its cover art, for pity’s sake), frequent radio play on BBC C&W Introducing, work exhibited in the Coventry Music Museum, appearances at Coventry Pride and Warwickshire Pride, and (possibly) about to do something special with The Herbert. And another album on the way. And… oh, yeah, there was that time when the local BBC Introducing show made me “Artist of the Month“. And that time when Pete Chambers gave me a mention in “Backbeat”. And invited me to come and play for Delia Day. And that time when I headlined Godiva to a worldwide live-streamed audience of 20 bazillion people. Oh, no, not that last one. That’s probably next year, if Coventry’s got anything to do with it. Who knows what I’ll be doing next? Literally anything could happen.
And why is all of this relevant? I’ll tell you (because, hey, you knew I was going to, right?).
It’s because Coventry made me do it. By being encouraging, by accepting the strange collections of noises that I make as being musical (I kid you not, an audience at The Tin one December night applauded six-and-a-half-minutes of one chord, a phenomenon that to my knowledge had only ever happened before at Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream gigs). Coventry drew me out of myself and gave me a stage and an audience and some goals by being, dammit, a cultured and cultural place.
A “City of Culture”, if you like.
(See what I did there? I know. I’m here all week, folks).
Exhibit D: You’ll Never Leave
Mrs Morocco and I encouraged our Small Boy to exercise his (ridiculously fertile and over-active) imagination. We joined him up for EGO‘s Saturday Morning kids’ drama group. That first year I was awarded “Volunteer of the Year” by EGO – without having intentionally done a damn thing. I mean, okay, I supported them with some sound engineering and did some DJ-ing and put on a night of local, amazing electronica but I never set out to do any of it. It’s just Coventry and Coventry people – if you can, they expect that you will, and the City will just fall into place to ensure that you do.
And how did all of that start? Mrs Morocco and I went to see a movie. At EGO. That’s all. Just an innocent hey-come-on-down-to-our-little-venue-and-enjoy-a-movie. Have a sofa. Cup of tea? What’s that? Oh, you’re a bit arts-y? Got some useful skills? Lovely! Gotcha!
So what have we learned here?
Now gather ’round, kids, ‘cos Uncle Dave’s going to sum up. Yes, he does like the sound of his own voice. Don’t let him put you off, listen up and you might learn something.
Here’s the important bit, here’s why Coventry should be UK City of Culture 2021:
It’s already UK City of Culture, 24/7, 365/365, except on leap years, when it still doesn’t take a day off.
Not even kidding. The cultural life of any place is directly proportional to its ability to draw in the people, talents, skills, imagination, drive, ambition and pure artistic bloody-mindedness that it needs, its ability to nurture and support those communities, its willingness to give back more than it takes and make us all richer in doing so. No, not money-richer. Proper-richer. In my experience, this wonderful place that I now call home, this city of music and theatre and art and raw exuberance ticks every box. And here’s the best bit: I get to do all of this, and have an awesome time, despite being not even a molehill in this city’s cultural landscape. I mean, who the hell am I? I’m just some middle-aged guy who makes a lot of noise at small, random groups of people and sometimes even plays the right notes. Imagine what would happen if I was young and talented and had any kind of energy?
To do all of this in my 40s? I’m having the ride of my life! Bring me more!
Love you, Cov, keep being you, let’s go win this thing