2012 was my first full year back in Barnsley after living darn sarf for six years. Initially apprehensive about what lay in store culturally after being surrounded by a wealth of quality live music, theatre experiences and exhibitions, I started Alternative Barnsley as a way of exploring arts and culture in Barnsley and of showcasing my finds to anybody that will listen. The results were not just a surprise to myself, but for many in town. It was a unique way of showing those that claim Barnsley has nothing going for it that they are more than wrong. My website and facebook group showed off the many talented folk in town trying to make a difference to the local arts scene. 2012 was a brilliant year and I thought it would be hard to top. I needn’t have worried. 2013 was an amazing year in Barnsley, full of cultural happenings. There were lot of changes both economically and in the arts, but nevertheless resulting in vibrant arts scene that any town could be proud of.
As government introduced austerity measures meant that arts funding saw cuts all round, Barnsley Civic and the BMBC run Barnsley Museums both saw major changes.
Over at ‘The Civic’, the 2012 exit Fergus Justice-Mills’ as Chief Executive was the first in a series of events which later saw previous BMBC Head of Culture and Visitor Economy, Helen Ball become the new CEO, along with a new team that now included Miz DeShannon as Head of PR & Marketing and Ian Morely, once BMBC Arts Development Officer, now the programmer at the theatre.
While the local press may choose to STILL dwell on the media-created controversy that is the Civic clock (the same people that still moan about the Barnsley Halo?), they forget to celebrate what has been a fantastic year. The Gallery at The Civic saw an exciting series of exhibitions by both local artists and of touring national shows, all curated by David Sinclair. My personal highlights were the three week takeover of the gallery space by ‘arts and health’ organisation Creative Recovery, which did outstanding work promoting the use of arts in the recovery of mental health and addiction; the travelling London’s Fashion and Textile Museum show Pop!, Pin-Up by Fiona Stephenson, the first in a series of shows by local painter Michelle Clarke-Stables and a wonderful explorations of UCB graduate art in 31 Degrees. And while I hear that The Civic may not be holding the degree show this year, it does continue to give a platform for local artists on its Panorama Space throughout 2014, and for the first time, a major solo show for a local in its major gallery space for photographer Sacha Ferrier.
One of Barnsley’s cultural highlights of 2013, was the opening of BMBC’s Experience Barnsley Museum and Discovery Centre in the Town Hall. The space which explores the history of our town through a variety of donated objects and shared personal stories saw the ‘better than I’d expected’ comments banded around no end and its projected visitor figures blasted out of the water with 75,000 visitors in just its first six months. May saw the installation of the Nigel Hall sculpture Crossing (Vertical) outside the town hall. Donated by Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was the first real publicly visible change to the Town Hall and its surroundings and marked the countdown to the opening of the museum in grand style. Although the sculpture was initially marked by much scepticism, I hope that it now accepted as much as the much loved Barnsley Pals Centenary Square and is fountains. I see the sculpture as a cultural marker, in so much that it now connect Barnsley in some way to the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, which is made up of key museums and galleries in Wakefield, Leeds and the Sculpture Park at West Bretton. They all attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and has helped those towns’ economies no end. Experience Barnsley already looks like it is on its way to doing the same, by bringing in tourists from all over the world.
Experience Barnsley is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund. It provides a unique cultural experience for locals and visitors, which is both educational and fun for all ages. The museum has its own children’s ‘historical’ play area, a cafe, a classroom called The Learning Lab which houses public lectures and family activities, and a changing exhibition space which so far he seen an exhibition of local artists reinterpreting Victorian photographs of Barnsley residents and The Romans Are Coming – an exploration of Roman objects found in Barnsley and the town’s connection to the wider Roman Empire.
2014 will see the space host an exhibition by local artist Terry Brookes, a celebration of the work of the Women Against Pitt Closures movements and a look the start of the First World War, a look at how it affected Barnsley residents on its centenary anniversary.
November saw Cannon Hall Museum, Worsbrough Mill Museum and the Cooper Gallery all awarded Full Accreditation Status by Arts Council England. An application for Accreditation will shortly be made for the new museum at Experience Barnsley in the Town Hall.
Barnsley Museums was also successful in a number of successful funding bids which has allowed a number of new projects to take place throughout Barnsley.
Lynn Dunning, Arts, Museums and Archives Manager for BMBMC shares her thoughts, ‘2013 has been a really exciting and busy year for the Barnsley Arts, Museums and Archives team. The highlight of course was opening Experience Barnsley, the new museum and archives centre in the Town Hall. The public response has been amazing and visitor numbers have exceeded all expectations. We also moved forward with significant investment in our other sites – The Cooper Gallery was awarded development funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund to extend and create new exhibition space, work on the world famous Newcomen Engine at Elsecar has commenced, Worsbrough Mill rebranded its flour and was also awarded Organic status and Cannon Hall had a complete revamp inside and reopens next year for all to see. The year also saw some great exhibitions – especially The Romans are Coming and a retrospective of Edward Wadsworth’s work – and popular events culminating in the spectacular Xmas Lights Switch on at the Town Hall. We are really grateful to all our visitors, Friends Groups, volunteers, tenants and funders for their ongoing support and belief in us. Here’s to an even better 2014!’
Surprisingly, arts outside of the ‘sector’ has made a developments also. It is often thought that some of the best art comes from living a under right wing governments, and even austerity; I often think this is either linked to protest or a true return to grassroots. 2013 not only saw a myriad of new arts and crafts related businesses and shops open up, many on The Arcade, but also the opening of two brand new art spaces. The Redbrook Arts Space opened in Spring and was a collaboration between artist Fiona Halliday, the collective Northern Young Artists and the Leeds based East Street Arts. Their alternative look at nine years of UCB alumni artists was phenomenal.
The local music scene also saw many pro-active business-like minds come to the fore this year. 2013 saw HMV go into administration and while the company’s debt was bought by Hilco UK, the decisions was made to close many of the small town stores, including the Barnsley branch. However, 2013 also saw ex-HMV supervisor Stu Sheard live a life-long dream and open up his own independent music shop, Debut Records, on The Arcade. There he sells new and old releases on both CD and vinyl, alongside record produced by local acts. He has also held a number of in-store events, collaborating with local artists.
The bands themselves too became business minded with Mynas, Black Vines, Richard Kitson and The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican all producing new records following successful fan-funded campaigns. Scott Doonican from the band headed a fan backed campaign that saw them successfully fund £2,500 and the release of a greatest hits album on red vinyl.
Barnsley has a thriving music scene, with nearly a hundred bands all writing and performing original material, alongside fifty-plus solo performers. Many of them have released wonderful records too this year. There are way too many to mention here, but my notable favourites were The Sober Drum by Mynas, Endless by Aztec Doll, the Of National Importance Records EP ‘Pareidolia’ and Times Told by Cavorts.
It’s no wonder then, that with this much talent, 2013 saw the first ever Live in Barnsley urban festival take place in eleven pubs and clubs in Barnsley Town Centre over one day in June. An estimated 3,000 music lovers descended onto Barnsley central to see over a hundred local and regional acts. The festival was not only free but it was a fantastic advertisement for Barnsley. It was so successful that it was nominated for ‘Best New Festival’ at the UK Festival Awards. Live in Barnsley 2014 is already pencilled in for next June 21st and the organisers have announced that ex-Undertone, Feargal Sharkey has agreed to be patron of the festival. Aside from his own chart hits, Sharkey is the CEO of British Music Rights and in October 2008, he became head of UK Music, an umbrella organisation representing the collective interests of the UK’s commercial music industry. Festival organiser, David Pearsall explains, ‘Feargal has years of experience in various aspects of the music world and hopefully we can tap into that and learn from him. We will be having a big media launch before next year’s festival and he has already agreed to be part of that and has told us he is looking forward to actually attending the festival and seeing some of the great local music talent.’
Although 2013 saw the popular BOMfest come to an end after seven years, it saw another successful return for Coalfields Festival in Darton. The scheduling changed from four stages over two days to six stages over one day. The weather stayed on top form, as did the fifty acts that played. The MadFest Folk Festival at Elsecar also saw hundreds of people travel from around the region to watch some of the biggest acts in folk music play, including Eliza Carthy, Larkin Poe and Barnsley’s very own Gilmore & Roberts.
The format of the smaller, one day benefit festival, often taking place often at Working Men’s Club or pub beer garden was a popular way of raising money for local charities this year. And despite many being out of work, everyone dug deep and gave to worthy causes. Events run by bands in Dodworth, Hoyland, Elsecar and the town centre among many others, raised money for causes as varied as Barnsley Hospice, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Barnsley Alzheimer’s Society and The Willow Foundation.
A notable highlight for myself was the formation of Horizon Radio, a community radio station, live seven days a week, which ran for one month from Horizon Community College. The project was put together by BBC Sheffield producer and Barnsley resident Dave Markwell and was funded by OfCom. The month long broadcast was part of a long term funding application, which unfortunately fell through due to the fact that OfCom decided it would not accept applications for FM services in certain areas – which includes Barnsley. Nevertheless, Horizon Radio provided a platform for local community groups to create programming to reflect their lives. I was given the opportunity to create a weekly programme for this site and was given the chance to share Barnsley music old and new and interview people from the local arts scene. I certainly hope that Horizon Radio will return as it is definitely needed. A very brief list of my favourite events would include Aztec Doll’s Willow Foundation Concert, Imoko Set’s headline gig at The Polish Club, Redmist Destruction at Coalfields, Aztec Doll and Lauren Tate at Walkabout, The Black Lamps at Opium No.10, Bring the Happy at The Civic, John Leger’s exhibition at Redbrook Art Space, Cavorts and Dislocator at The Metordome, Jeni & Billy at Barnsley Folk Club and the Elsecar Punk All-Dayer, Pop! at The Civic, the launch of the West Stand Bogs fanzine (and I don’t even like Football!) and Roman re-enactors at the opening of Experience Barnsley’s Romans are Coming exhibition. Okay, okay… I said small list. But believe me when I say it could have been much longer.
And while to many on the outside, Barnsley may be remembered for celebratory bonfires in Goldthorpe on Thatcher’s death, but many famous Barnsley folk hit the headlines for other reasons this year.
In Febuary, the documentary Heavy Metal Thunder The Movie saw an international release and gave an account of the history of the band Saxon, presenting the story from often uneven viewpoints, Biff Byford and Paul Quinn on one side – Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson on the other. It offers a history of the musicians early days from forming Son of a Bitch in Barnsley.
Actress Kathrine Kelly was named Woman of the Year at the 2013 Yorkshire Awards. Known for playing Becky McDonald in Coronation Street, she also played Lady Mae in ITV’s Mr Selfridge.
Local band Exit Calm get bigger and bigger, with their psychadelia infused second full length album, The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be, getting critically acclaimed in just about every review it got, and making many magazines end of year lists.
Children’s TV present Sam Nixon won the Best Presenter Award, which he shared with his presenting partner mark Rhodes at the Children’s BAFTAs. Barnsley actor Kenny Doughty, who has starred in no end of British drama, starred in Snowpiercer, alongside Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Jamie Bell. The film is the English-language debut from South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Thirst, Stoker) and is due out in the UK in 2014.
Brian Blessed, who was raised in Goldthorpe, was given the Spirit of the Hammer Award at the 2013 Metal Hammer Magazine awards. Previous winners include Bill Bailey and Sir Christopher Lee. We presume he won this for being louder than any metal band.
Barnsley’s Kathryn Roberts and her musical partner and husband Sean Lakeman won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for best duo. And even if they didn’t win, it could have easily have gone to her young brother Jamie, who was also nominated with his group Gilmore & Roberts. Kathryn’s song The Ballad of Andy Jacobs, a song about her memories of the miner’s strikes in Dodworth, was also rightly nominated for the Best Original Song award – easily one of the finest songs written about our town.
However, before all the fame comes art at grassroots level and for many, 2013 will be remembered for passing of Barnsley College tutor Richard Tolson – lovingly known at Rich T to his students – he was influential for much of Barnsley’s music at grass roots. Much has been made about the fact that he taught some of the Arctic Monkeys, but Richard’s inspiration and hard work was felt by many musicians from and or based in Barnsley. Richard was unfortunately diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer in February and passed away this Autumn. As well as his work at Barnsley College, he raised lots of money for various charities locally and was also a director of Penistone FM. He is survived by his wife Sarah, his son Ellis aged 12, daughter Lauryna aged nine and 22-year-old Lynsey who was looked after by Rich and Sarah and has been part of the family for the last seven years.
And so, I could go on for many more paragraphs with details of the cultural triumphs of Barnsley folk in 2013 and many more of my personal highlights but I will leave it there. With the anniversaries of the Miner’s Strikes and the start of the First World War upon us in 2014, there is the opportunity for many exciting cultural experiences to take place. Every month I see more new and exciting bands, artists and craftsmakers appearing on the scene for the first time, and I have no doubt that in 2014, I will be just as proud as I always am to share those talents and to declare that I am from Barnsley.
Barnsley is a town that is often forgotten or not heard, no matter how many times it shouts. All too often the media dwells on the have-nots, rather than the what-can-be’s. Too often we are told that you can’t make it if you’re from Barnsley. In fact, I have recently taken part in a project called The Barnsley Alumni Network, set up by I Know I Can, in which people from Barnsley schools that have gone on to achieve in their area. These people then can be contacted by schools to give inspirational talks to students.
More cultural changes are afoot in 2014. The announcement that the central library will be relocated on a temporary basis to Wellington House on Market Street, only to have the current site demolished, along with many of empty units on Shambles Street to make way for a new sixth form college is a contentious issue which has been much debated in recent weeks. The move would take the library, albeit for a temporary period, out of the new cultural quarter in Barnsley, which takes in Barnsley College, the Digital Media Centre, UCB, galleries, theatres, museum, cinema and The Arcade, and over to the dead end of Market Street, away from transport links.
And yet whatever happens, I know Barnsley will remain punk to the core – always true to its talents and roots and thrive once more in the face of adversity, cuts and austerity.
So here’s to next year. I wish you all well, and I hope to see hear and share as much of your magic as possible. Keep it up Barnsley.