Photographer Phil and myself had vowed to return. Last year, we'd had such a fine time at the Hockley Hustle, the friendly party laid on in Nottingham by enthusiastic volunteers. We'd learnt our lessons and the prohibitive Sunday train service back to Leicester (last train 21.30 on a Sunday) was not going to catch us out again. With hotel booked, we were ready. In cool and trendy venues, both established and new, we could drink craft beer, real ale and tea whilst watching the cream of Nottingham's considerable bank of talent do their thing. This would be fun.
And so it proved. Picking up our passes at the Broadway cinema mid-afternoon, we quickly perused the Hustle guide. Thirty venues, each curated by a different promoter or interested party from the Nottingham scene; a small splattering of acts we'd heard of but, on the whole, a cast-list of bands that were new names to us out-of-towners. Not that this mattered; we agreed to walk around in random fashion, to take in the sights, sounds and smells without having any grand timetabled plan. Festivals work better that way, we agreed.
First up, we'd build our confidence by catching the familiar; The Hackney Colliery Band were about to take to the Spiegeltent stage down in Nottingham's Market square. "But, that's not in Hockley?', I hear the geographers scream - and they'd be right. This year, the Hustle has been able to expand their reach and gain access to the Spiegeltent, here in Nottingham for a couple of weeks. The Hackney Colliery Band are a treat. They play their brass-heavy festival faves to a packed out and appreciative tent. They also seem most happy to be part of things, encouraging successful carnival processions within their marching tunes. I'm reminded of a friend who described the Hackney Colliery Band as 'great - but they could have a less dull name' and I chuckle again at her poor grasp of mining geography.
From here, it's a short stroll through the town centre to the Hockley area. We rest for a while at Bodega, a mainstay of the Nottingham gig circuit. Today, it has acoustic shows on downstairs whilst the upstairs is given over to Confetti Live (Confetti is the creative industries institute in Nottingham) for the day. That's one of the great things about the Hustle; the way that promoters and agencies come together without any sense of malice or envy so that this city can continue to blossom. It's quite a feat to unify in such fashion.
Downstairs at Bodega, we catch an import from Leicester, Siobhan Mazzei, doing her acoustic rock thing. With complex harmonics oozing out of her acoustic guitar and a powerful voice, she marks herself as one to watch. Once Siobhan has finished we head upstairs to see what the college kids can accomplish. "I fell in love with country music a year ago", says BRIA as she launches into a fine Emmylou Harris cover. With a bit more guile that'll come from more live experience, one suspects that BRIA could well be a name to watch.
The bulk of the action centres around the Hockley area of Nottingham (as you might expect). The area is a vibrant, creative mass on most days of the week so when it all comes together for the Hustle it verges on sensory overload. Venues such as the Revolution bar, not normally known for their live music offering, host a stage from BBC Introducing today. I pop in to their makeshift stage and watch for a while. Local Introducing DJ, Dean Jackson, has had his finger on the pulse of this scene for many years now and it's no surprise to find a buzzing venue full of anticipation. The words from a song I used to love many years ago come into my head. "Revolution's just another bar in this town" couldn't be further from today's truth.
Down the road, at Edin's, a neat looking venue that I'd not previously been in, Buenos Treehouse are just getting into gear. They do a melodic power pop thing and it's all perfectly watchable. I remember the quandary that there always is at these City Centre venues when festivals happen. You want to give a bar your trade but if you bought a beer in every venue on your travels, as you dart in and out, it won't take you too long to get horribly drunk. I buy a beer.
Last year, Photographer Phil and myself found a certain amount of comfort in the real ale laid on at the fine pub venue, the Lord Roberts. It's the same this year. The slight confusion over the size of plastics was suitably resolved (initially we were served pints in under-sized glasses) and we ventured downstairs into the basement for entertainment put on by the 'We Shall Overcome' movement. We Shall Overcome is a movement of musicians, artists and community organisers who are angry about the human costs of austerity policies but who want to do something practical to help those affected. The set-up down in this basement is fab and the room packed when DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Band take to the stage. It's banjo, washboard and double-bass from out in the shires. Upbeat and a whole lot of fun, the only shame is that there's not enough space down here to get up off our seats and dance. Others do the honours for us.
If public dancing is your thing then where better to do it than at a street silent disco. By the time we leave the Lord Roberts, it's getting darker and the notorious silent disco is kicking into action on Broad street. Hosted by Truth & Lies, we don't bother about the headsets but boogie on down with random moves of our own. It doesn't matter and nobody seems to care for everybody is having too much fun to notice.
I'd marked down the evening event at the Nottingham Contemporary as a pre-festival must see. There's a show going on there with the 60 piece UFO Orchestra and some of Nottingham's finest artists including Liam Bailey on the mic. By all accounts, it was a wonderful experience and I'm a little disappointed to have missed it. But, Photographer Phil and I were firmly ensconced at The Angel. We didn't know it when we went on in but such was the quality of act and beer, this would be where we set up our residency for the rest of the evening.
Hosted by influential all-rounders, I'm Not From London, the Angel has both an upstairs and a downstairs venue. Acts alternate between the two. Set times feel entirely out of sync with the programme so this might not be a venue to head to if you've marked a band as a must see and you've got limited time. We didn't know what we were letting ourselves in for and simply stumbled upon Arrows Of Love, the undisputed highlight of my Hockley Hustle day. Arrows Of Love are a punk band occupying a similar space to Idles and Cabbage. With energy, aggression and theatrical madness, it wasn't long before beers were flying and nihilistic attitude was brought to the fore. Tables are climbed on from which songs are issued and spit-fuelled protests announced. It's got a dark edge and it's incredibly exciting. There's no doubt that this is a band I'd watch again.
Compelled to stay at the Angel after such a riotous performance, we head upstairs for Seas Of Mirth. Their nautical prog-folk has been going down a storm at some pretty fine festivals in recent years and it's great to see them ship-shape on a smaller stage. You know what you're going to get and it's always better than walking the plank. Next up, Revenge Of Calculon take over at the downstairs bar. With Mexican wrestling masks obscuring their identity, this two-piece offer a fuzzy synth-based thing which is both visually stimulating and gets me moving.
By this point of the day, the beers are flowing and the smile on my face is broad. Upstairs at the Angel, I recall being impressed by the tattooed-sound of Bone Cult and then the last band of the evening, Fire (The Unstoppable Force). Apparently, this garage-rock band, dressed in suave, lounge suits with red shirts, have travelled from Hull for this experience. "They were my highlight of the day", mumbles Photographer Phil and I concede that he has a point.
In truth, there's been so many highlights. There's so much packed into this one day in Hockley that it's pretty hard not to have a fine time. Your path might have taken a very different course to ours but still you'd have been raving about what a great day out this is. With activities for youngsters added this year, it's something that can be enjoyed as family. With carnival parades to watch and street art to view, I fear that, despite our best endeavours, we've only managed to scratch the surface of the Hustle. We acknowledge that there are venues open until the early hours and, despite texts from new-found friends urging us to come along, we sensibly retire to our cheap hotel. Sunday has given way to Monday and the day-job beckons later.
Hockley Hustle - you've been ace. Let's do it all again next year.
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