West Bromwich – you’re the rock’n’roll capital of the world. Dave Woodhall reports from the latest addition to the festival circuit.
The Public, in West Bromwich, is one of the most controversial buildings to open in the region for some time.
Debate raged about its use, its cost, delays to its opening and over-spending. Once it opened it seemed as though the local media (particularly the Express & Star) couldn’t wait to describe every bad news story about under-use or operating losses in full detail. Listen to many local people and they’ll still tell you how the money could have been better spent elsewhere, even though for many reasons the alternative uses were invariably inappropriate or impossible.
Since it finally opened in 2009, the Public has become established as a centre for the arts, attracting over 500,000 visitors and winning numerous design awards. It’s staged exhibitions, concerts, plays, and the Easter weekend saw its first music festival, Now We Are. The brainchild of Emma Cooper and her promotion company Funny Looking Cat, the festival attracted a decent crowd considering the various other attractions available during the Bank Holiday, and fans from around the country were appreciate of both the music and the venue.
I can understand the first; after almost two days of listening with one ear while working around the Public I don’t think I heard a bad band. One of the highlights were the first up on Saturday, pop/punk five-piece Icepops for Breakfast who came down from Lancashire, opened proceedings and were still listening to other acts almost 36 hours later. It was that kind of weekend – no egos or rock’n’roll tantrums, just a healthy crowd enjoying themselves whether they were performing or just listening. Local band Misty’s Big Adventure were the other hit of the first day, performing their own theatrical brand of musical eclecticism to an appreciative audience.
Being there primarily to work (or appear to), I wasn’t able to hear much of what was going on in the theatre, but the open-plan Pink Stage seemed to have an endless supply of quality music. The solo piano sound of Becky Rose was a suitable chilled accompaniment to Sunday afternoon, while in contrast Keith Top of the Pops led a 14 piece band with no less than eight guitarists, which was a personal best I don’t think I’ll ever see beaten. At times, they were awesome.
As for the venue, its design and feel drew appreciative responses from just about everyone present – there was a general feeling that it’s a place of which West Bromwich should be proud rather than moaning about the cost and how “nobody” ever goes there according to one local “because it loses too much money and we have to pay for it.” Well you should go there then, shouldn’t you? Then it wouldn’t lose as much. And if there was the demand for an ice rink or whatever your pet project is, some enterprising company would have built one.
But enough carping. Two days of good music, for fifteen quid (ten if you bought a ticket early enough). Money coming into an unlovely town centre that desperately needs it. Good publicity for a place not enough people have heard of. It was an uplifting couple of days and I hope Now We Are returns next year on its way to becoming firmly established as a curtain raiser to the festival season.