First of all, straight off the bat, I’d just like to say a big “thank you” from the bottom of my heart to all the people and the city of Leicester ! I’ve been through Leicester a lot in my short life through work and study, and only being from Nottingham, it’s just down the road, although some people in Nottingham and Derby talk about the place like it’s a million miles away. It’s a great city, and I’ve been massively humbled and overwhelmed by how warm and welcoming it has been, and how supportive certain quarters have been, over the last year, as we’re coming up to just under one year since I decided to go out with my acoustic guitar and make a living making music.
So, in July of last year I had recently left my job at the University of Leicester, great place as it is feeling trapped in an office as a Computer Science Sustainability Research Assistant just didn’t feel like the life for me, music had always been something in the back of my mind that I might return to, why not just go for it, still 5 years away from 30, step out into Leicester, Lesta, Les-tah, Leicestershire and embrace the music scene, or whatever scene it is that you might find out there.
I had already been in Leicester as a student, but never really ventured too much into town, staying in the student bubble out in Oadby, south of the city, or only ambling in in anonymity to get bits of fruit off the market, quiet, much quieter, and only too happy for no-one to know my name, why I was here or what on earth I was doing !
Now Leicester Market is one of my favourite places in the world, and I’ll champion it until the day I die, and that’s not forgetting the great little greengrocers up on Queens Road in the Clarendon Park area, and all the little independent shops in that area, and all the boutiques and great places to explore in the Lanes, Silver Arcade and St Martins Square side of town too. I love this way of life, existing and shopping(!?) so much so that I’ve quite vocally joined the campaign ‘Tesco Queens Road Say No’ to stop large supermarkets and retailers crushing the independent spirit of the city, and will quite happily sport an I heart CP badge in support of the people’s charity ‘Friends of Clarendon Park’.
Leicester has enabled, and even accelerated, my penchant for clean and healthy living, whilst Clarendon Park may seem the last bastion of Little Britain, the city has more diversity than you will ever willingly wish to shake a stick at ! The Caribbean, Asian, African, European and Latin flavours you encounter on a daily basis sends the positive energies and vibrations soaring, and everyone seems to be living so harmoniously. Not the only one, but a great example of metropolitan, cosmopolitan diversity, of which we should all be proud.
And on the music front, there is a lot going on, you might have to peer under a few rocks and make the right connections to find out where, but Leicester has a lot of talent on show and residing here. I won’t mention any names, I think do enough to Spread The Love through my ‘Matt Henshaw Recommends …’ blog, the Tea & Toast podcasts and inviting guests to play at my nights at the Cookie. And what a place full of, and run by wonderful people The Cookie is. I felt honoured and flattered that I was asked back in January that they asked me to put on a regular night there, I never intended to settle there, like Leicester itself, but I’ve found myself hosting some electric parties, with positive vibrations running through the whole building, from the basement to the top floor.
I’m throwing a birthday party this year, Saturday 20th September at The Cookie ! Be there, more info will follow shortly …
Some of the other venues in Leicester I’ve enjoyed playing and meeting the people who run them, such great people at The Donkey and The Shed, you know why the likes of Tom and Serge of Kasabian hold a special place in their heart for these little places, and they might bring back memories of playing what are described as “toilet venues” up and down the country, but that’s where the best memories are made, and they’ve had some great acts, and some great people through their doors. When I was last at the Donkey we ended up drinking with The Damned !! Small venues, big reputations …
And the places I played in my first week out of the squares closet, I went down to open mic nights, I tried to do every night of the week. The first, on the Monday night, fittingly enough was the City Acoustic Club at The Musician, what fabulous people were there, and every week if it’s on, the hosts, comperes, acts, atmosphere, I’ve met some really interesting, wonderful and talented people on these nights, and the same goes for The Soundhouse on a Tuesday night, I went there in my first week, and I’ve been back many times and ended up singing Kinks songs in the midnight hour.
I also ended up playing at The Marquis Wellington, The Exchange and The Barley Mow for a Wildfire Session. Then moved onto the Cradock, and my had I met some fantastic, fabulous and fantabulous people, all within the space of a couple of weeks or so, people I’ve worked with, done shows with, sang with, written songs with and recorded with, and greatest of all, to me, I’ve met a selection of families, whole families that feel now like part of my own, truly some of the best people, the kind of people that you only need think of and it brightens your day.
It’s been a long old slog getting myself to when I want to be, in terms of being a professional, living, working, breathing musician and singer/songwriter, but we’re getting there, even though there’s a long way left to go, I’m so pleased considering that at Christmas I only had one show booked for the new year, and was anticipating a small article in a local magazine, by the end of January, following the OBSunplugged nights, which are a great showcase for new and up and coming acoustic acts in the city, and what turned out to be a double page spread with some excellent photographs in one of the most widely distributed editions of The Monograph magazine, gave me a great, great platform to go forth and spread the good gospel of Peace, Love & Tea through the rest of the year !
It would be a crime not to touch on some of the other massive things happening in the city right now, the City of Champions indeed ! I take full vicariously responsibility for Leicester City winning the Championship by the way, since my arrival, my blue and white scarf and love of big Nigel Pearson at the helm has been enough to spur them on to be crowned champions.
And then there’s the snooker, basketball, TV talent shows and bloomin’ King Dick III knocking about in a car park, fancy old King Richard, the King of York, buried under Greyfriars for hundreds of years. It pains me to say that, with my personal love of cricket, Leicester CCC are what can only be described as languishing in all competitions this season … I’m still waiting for the phone call to get down there and give them a team talk !
Anyway, that’s probably enough rambling from me, and what probably seems to read like “An Open Love Letter to a City”, but it’s all true and from the bottom of my heart, I love Leicester, the city and the people, and I’m happy to call it my home now, and for some time, in the hope it continues to be good to me and good for me.
The plan was, if there ever was one, to make myself self-sufficient in year, and get on at all the great little festivals in an round the city the following summer, and here we are, one year on, I’m playing at loads of great festivals including Strawberry Fields on the Friday and Simon Says in the great De Montfort Hall on the Sunday, so, if you’ve got tickets see you there, and you never know, I might pop up at some of the great open mic nights I went to last summer and have already mentioned, but I hope I’ll see all of you at The Cookie for my birthday party on Saturday 20th September, it’s gonna be great !!
And you might have seen some of the pictures in this blog from my travels around Leicester city with top cameraman, the Digital Mechanic, definitely hairier than a couple of the other lovely chaps I see around at a lot of gigs, amazing photographers in this city too, and all so wonderful and approachable. The venues give the artists somewhere to perform, the photographers give them an image and the memories, promoters work hard at spreading the word and the people, well, the people are just beautiful.
Goodnight Leicester, Peace, Love & Tea, MHx
PS. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned any names in this blog, but if you know who you are then you know who you are, you’re great and I hope you stay that way !!