From Ghost Town to Host Town

8 June 2017
Pete Chambers

Many words have already been written and even more words have been spoken about “The City of Culture” and Coventry’s place in the bid. There are those who dismiss such an idea with a throw-away roll of the eyes, whilst others, have the belief in such a bid. Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe they have a knowledge of what Coventry is, and what makes it work. I suspect that those who would laugh at our city being awarded such a prize, may have looked at the bid from all the wrong angles.

The City of Culture is not about “outstanding Beauty”, it’s not about “Wonders of the World”, strip away the day to day normality of the city and simply look at what puts a smile on our faces, chances are it will put a smile on others outside the city too. “Culture” may sound like it belongs to the aristocracy, but ultimately its classless. Culture comes in many forms, and as I said, its having the knowledge of not just finding it but celebrating it too.

By some quirk of faith I was born here. I could have been born anywhere else of course, luckily for me I grew up in a city, smack in the centre of England. A city that was never afraid to soak up the best that was on offer from the many places around it. A city that because of its topography attracted many would-be citizens to its car factories and the like. Little did I know that as I grew, the elements that would lead to Coventry being a music city were already in place and were quietly gestating.

For now though, I was happy to fill my ears with sounds from Liverpool, London and Manchester, as a youngster the local 60’s scene was way out of reach, the early 70’s gave us Glam Rock, Heavy Rock, Prog Rock and a number one from Coventry band Lieutenant Pigeon. My ears pricked up, okay, “Mouldy Old Dough” and its relentless piano bashing may have been quirky, but it was Coventry’s quirky. To me it began a love affair with local music that would hit critical mass in 1979, when Gangsters V The Selecter was released, at last we had a “Coventry Sound” and we were well and truly on the music map. To the city fathers back then, It was of course just some pop music, fast forward thirty-odd years on and it’s now social history, it’s now culture and it’s now heritage. Thank goodness I grew up in a city that would have music with integrity beating away in its heart.

So I know music, it’s always been there, so for me Coventry is a wondrous musical place, personally, it’s through local culture I am able to make a living writing about what I love. It’s enabled me to create a wonderful museum, and to share our heritage with others. It’s curious that our biggest musical export (2-Tone Music), dove-tails perfectly with Coventry’s City of Peace and Reconciliation ethos. Indeed, Coventry has a powerful history of cultural cross-fading. We all know that heady mix of ska and punk gave us The Specials and The Selecter, that aside, we are also a major Bhangra centre too, where the Eastern music meets so beautifully with the western rhythms, you know multiculturalism never sounded so good.

Those who have the knowledge know all about Coventry’s vibrant folk scene, there’s no culture class here either, just ideas mixing with more ideas, creating a melting pot of incredible music, don’t believe me? Check out violinist Joe O’Donnell, a supreme musician who creates spectacular music in many forms and genres, as a journalist I would look to define it, to Joe it’s just joyous music, that’s because Joe has the Knowledge.

Just a few weeks ago, Coventry came together to celebrate electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire, various places in the city hosted events. A joyous time was had at The Cathedral, at the Music Museum and at the Herbert and the BBC. We came together to celebrate one of our own, and it all worked perfectly, testament to a city that knows how to look after our own culture and heritage. To me a perfect precursor to just how it will be in 2021. Yeah, just watch us, and see what we can do.

The Coventry Godiva Festival is of course our cultural showcase, where Rock music rubs shoulders with Hip Hop, Folk and Gospel choirs. We look at it as separate boxes of cultural genre, put them together though and that what we are about, whether it’s our own home-grown culture or celebrating someone else’s, ultimately it’s about COVENTRY. It’s about its citizens, it’s about what we had in the past and how we use it, or what we have right now and how we show it off. Once us Cov kids come out of the shadow of other places, we will discover there’s a time to shine, and that time is now, and actually (yes really), we can become the City of Culture 2021.

By Pete Chambers BEM

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