Nottingham's most obviously successful musical export of recent years has undoubtedly been Sleaford Mods, or Jake Bugg, depending on your preferences and mood. Either way, both artists owe much of their current level of success to their beginnings in the often overlooked DIY culture that thrives in the city's fringes.
As is the case with many UK Midlands towns and cities, many of the historical places that once nurtured back water youth culture have been lost to demolition, development and corporate redevelopment. Bucking this trend, standing on an oddly angled corner opposite one of the city's remaining Victorian marketplaces, lies J.T. Soar. At first glance, the building appears to be a warehouse for J.T. Soar Ltd, a fruit and potato wholesaler, harking back to the locale's market past, and as its signage suggests it was once just that.
J.T. Soar is now, thanks to the vision of Phil Booth and his collaborators, a DIY orientated music/arts venue and rehearsal space with a recording studio. An open-minded landlord saw the sense in Phil expanding his initial studio venture from one floor of the building into the disused former warehouse space on the lower floor. Phil and his fellow enthusiasts added some home comforts (such as a toilet) and some new internal walls to manage the noise.
By taking advantages of changes in licensing laws and ensuring that everybody behaves through mutual respect (rather than with heavy-handed security) the venue doesn't require any special license to house gigs provided that they are all quiet by 11 pm. The DIY ethics extend to the drinks policy with a bring your own bottle approach avoiding the issue of pricey drinks (so often cited as a bugbear of gig-goers), the need for bar staff, and for that matter a bar. There's no venue manager as such as it's a cooperative.
The intent is to keep everybody on the same level. There isn't even a stage to raise the artists over their audience! It's a very real expression of the true punk ethos.
It's an approach that has landed them a loyal community of local grassroots artists keen to use the space but also gigs from bigger and more international outfits passing through. Notable shows have included Rolo Tomassi, Sheer Mag (USA) and MNHM (Netherlands). Nottingham is often missed off tour schedules. Bigger bands' stop-offs are often dictated by complex algorithms of population, venue size and demographics and smaller bands assume that culturally Nottingham won't give them the exposure they need, so it's great to see a venue that provides an alternative for bands that do want to include the city.
"JT Soar is a little DIY haven that welcomes absolutely everyone and every genre of music. I've been lucky enough to discover so many great bands there as well as playing there a bunch of times too and every time is just so incredibly fun, as well as being an amazing safe space for people to express themselves and their creativity or to simply just to enjoy people doing so. Huge love for Phil who owns JT for creating a lovely yet seriously awesome place for DIY music in Notts." - Maddy, Cherry Hex & The Dream Church
Local bands such as Grey Hairs and Cherry Hex and The Dream Church regularly inhabit the performance space, and the list of those that have recorded in the studio includes the like of Sleaford Mods, Onsind and The Wave Pictures. The combination of venue and studio leads to bands stopping off for gigs then returning when it's time to record having been impressed by what they've seen.
"JT Soar is an essential part of Nottingham's DIY music scene. It provides a friendly, cheap, inclusive, accessible and safe environment for promoters, bands and gig-goers. Phil is also a stellar recording engineer and the nicest fellow you could ever hope to meet." - Matt Newnham, Gringo Records
It might surprise many that one of the adjectives that pop up regularly about J.T Soar is the word safe. In an era where it's often perceived as cool or clever for individuals and organisations to be critical of any creative effort that doesn't fit a preconceived consensual ideal, people, especially young people, need safe, creative spaces to experiment more than ever. In Nottingham, it seems that J.T. Soar is a leading example of how this can be done. In a city that has had its fair share of bad press as a dangerous place, J.T. Soar is a safe haven of positivity and an inspirational community untouched by corporation, government or other sinister steerage.
Find out more about J.T. Soar at www.facebook.com/JTSoar
Read more about the Nottingham band scene including Grey Hairs and Cherry Hex and The Dream Church in our Nottingham Sound feature here.