Subculture Lost & Found: Nottingham

Nottingham's lost past and newly found musical places

Thursday 26th April 2018

The Sandpiper, Nottingham, in the late 1970s. Photo courtesy of Steve Fisher

From The Hippo to The Bomb via the Chameleon Cafe and JT Soar. We take a look at some of Nottingham's lost past of quirky venues and newly founded musical hangouts.


The Hippo
An underground basement jazz club that opened in the 1960s appealing to Nottingham's bohemian crowd, The Hippo suffered a closure when such clubs became less popular across the country, but was reopened by the original proprietor in the 1980s with the aim of recreating the same sort of bohemian oasis again. While his efforts didn't quite come to fruition, The Hippo did become one of Nottingham's most popular small dance orientated clubs throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Despite its housey/disco vibe The Hippo also has a small but notable claim to an entry in the history book of British indie-culture - influential cult 1990s band Tindersticks met at the club and formed as a result of performances on the club's small stage.

The Garage
Despite Nottingham's reputation in the 1980s as something of a rocker's city, dance music and club culture quickly got a hold on the city's nightlife and one of the most talked about clubs to tap into the house music movement was The Garage. Graeme Park, Allister Whitehead and Jonathan Woodliffe were among the DJs that helped build the club's reputation as a leading dance venue. The Garage briefly rebranded as Kool Kat, reverting to its original name soon after. The building remained a club into the late 1990s as The Lizard Lounge before like many of the clubs in the area it closed as the nature of the club scene changed and the recession did away with much of the area's footfall. The empty building was eventually converted to office spaces.

The Narrow Boat
It's fair to say that Nottingham had a lot of pubs up until the later years of the last century when many closed and made space for the rapidly evolving nature of the High Street of the 21st Century. While many will argue that it was time for a change one pub that is still missed is The Narrow Boat. As well as a popular watering hole the pub was also one of the best places to catch live bands in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sadly the pub closed in 1996, and along with a large area of canalside buildings, it was demolished and redeveloped. One of the most pleasing echoes of the venue in popular culture though is its appearance in the ultra-low-fi video for cult band Bis' video for their surprise 1996 hit 'Kandy Pop'.

Sam Fay's
Named after the famous railwayman that extended the services of the Great Central Railway, Sam Fay's took up residence in a disused railway station ticket office on the banks of the Nottingham Canal. Like the nearby Narrowboat, the pub was one of the favourite spots for the indie scene in the late '80s and '90s. After the pub had closed for good, the Victorian building had the questionable destiny of becoming the UK's only branch of Hooters, before being demolished by developers. Alas, the mid-'00s cash flow crisis brought any actual redevelopment of the site to a halt.

1970s Clubgoers at The Sandpiper in Nottingham. Photo courtesy of Steve Fisher

The Sandpiper
Nottingham's late 1970s underground punk venue tucked away in a low ceilinged basement off the courtyard of a relatively grand Victorian building in the city's Lace Market. Though many local music lovers and gig aficionados have never heard of its existence, Sandpiper pulled in some big hitters of punk. The Damned, Sham 69, The Vibrators and a young Adam Ant were among the British punks to play there, alongside pop, rock and performance poets in what was a backwater haven for countercultures other than disco, the latter having swept through the Midlands of that period. Sadly, the club's subterranean location lent itself to conversion into an underground carpark in years that followed, with the club's street-facing aspect wholly removed to make way for ramp access by cars.

A shortlived club, existing only between 1990 and 1994, but perfectly timed and sized to seize on the emergence and spread of Acid House and Hardcore. Venus became heavily associated with the rave scene, often being cited as Nottingham's answer to The Haçienda. Despite its small size and provincial location, the club drew now lauded underground DJs of the scene such as DJ Sy, and others that would become mainstream household names including Pete Tong, Brandon Block, Jeremy Healy and Fatboy Slim.


Sleaford Mods at The Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham

The Chameleon Arts Cafe
Sitting above a shop off the city's Market Square The Chameleon, like its reptile namesake, blends in unseen unless you are looking for it. Affordable hire rates and an open, unpretentious attitude to those wishing to use the space for their music or other creative endeavours have created a liberal, friendly venue loved by smaller touring bands and local startup bands alike. With a photography studio on the top floor, there's even scope for bands to get those all-important promo shots done. The recent and current listings include Notts bands such as Babe Punch alongside visitors that include Queen Zee and The Sasstones, FVNERALS and Drones, as well as the occasional scoop such as their upcoming, sold-out, Damo Suzuki gig.

J.T. Soar, Nottingham

J.T. Soar
A refreshing celebration of all things cooperative, J.T. Soar is housed in a former fruit and veg warehouse on the edge of Nottingham's Sneinton area. With its punk ethics and DIY approach, the creative art space includes a recording studio that has played host to Sleaford Mods among others. Its no bouncers, no hassle, no bar policy has resulted in one of the city's safest spaces for those wanting to absorb or experiment with the neighbourhood counterculture.
For more about J.T. Soar check out Subculture Uncovered feature on the venue here.

The Angel Microbrewery, Nottingham

The Angel Microbrewery
One of the strongholds of rock, metal and punk in the city, The Old Angel barely flinched as British punk's presence acquiesced in the '80s and America's Grunge era permeated the early '90s. The pub was also a favourite haunt of Alan Sillitoe, author of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. A facelift in the mid-'90s sought to gentrify the pub a bit, but there is only so much you can do when a public house is built on top of a man-made cave system in the shape of a crucifix, and before long it was a rock venue with a jukebox to match once more. In 2016 the pub closed its doors, but soon reopened after some tasteful renovation as The Angel Microbrewery, inviting regulars new and old back under its wings and sprucing up the upstairs venue space for a new lease of life. Artists as diverse as Ulrika Spacek and The Orielles now sit alongside the rock bands on a varied schedule of events.

One of the smallest venues in Nottingham, barely fitting audience members and a band at the same time, Jamcafe is the place for intimate acoustic sets. Pleasingly informal and comfortable with a European feel there a few places more relaxing that you can enjoy live music and a drink in Nottingham.

A staple stop-off of Nottingham's independent music scene for almost two decades, Bodega began its current life in 1999 as one of the three regional sibling bars of Heavenly Recordings London centre Heavenly Social Club. After a change of ownership, The Bodega took its name from the Edwardian public house still visible in the stonework of the building's facade. Pleasingly, the site's previous building was a Victorian pub named the Durham Ox which had a reputation for musical entertainment. A trait carried over to the Bodega's present incarnation with the tiny stage providing the setting for early gigs from the like of Arctic Monkeys, White Stripes, The Libertines, The Strokes, The View, The Vines, Metronomy and Mystery Jets.

Marcus Garvey
One of Nottingham's best-known exports of the 20th century, The Raleigh Bicycle Company, vacated their factory in the Lenton area of the city providing the perfect space for The West Indian Cavaliers Sports and Social Club to move in and create one of the Midlands' most important reggae venues of the early 1980s. Thankfully, the venue flourished with programming that saw rock greats such as Robert Plant also appear on the billings. With claims of the loudest soundsystem in the Midlands, the club was perfectly set up for the birth of rave, acid house and everything that came with it. Edwin Starr, The Prodigy, Primal Scream, Belle and Sebastian, Inspiral Carpets, The Dead 60s and Massive Attack are just a few of the names that have appeared at the much-loved venue, not so much found but rather never lost. For the last word who better than David Rodigan to put the ballroom through its paces?

Thanks to Steve Fisher at

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