10 years on – the more things change, the more things stay the same

Ten years ago, I once again started frequenting an old haunt of mine called The Mannville Arms. It was called The Head at the time and had been subjected to a great many changes since The Mannville of old had closed in 1995. Located just across the road from Bradford College, it was very much a student pub with a student vibe. It hadn’t hosted anything particularly noteworthy until my friend Tom started there, apart from some DJ nights with Steve, the manager at the time. There was a general feeling that a change was going to come. Mick Dunn was working the bar and he decided, in conjunction with his brother Billy to buy the lease on the place with a view to restoring the pub’s name and vibe. Tom booked the bands and I jumped onboard as a DJ, primarily doing monthly nights but also the odd additional session. I’d been a DJ since 1996 at the Smithy and Empress pubs.

The more I used the place, the more I got involved. It was very infectious. It had always been my favourite pub of old and it was amazing to see the resurrection unfold. I eventually became ents officer for the place, overseeing the entire roster after Tom left and loads of people got involved in the burgeoning scene. At one point, there was some form of entertainment on every single night of the week, be it live music or DJs and punters flooded in.

It was awesome. There was also a real sense of renaissance in the Bradford music scene at large as more and more places turned their attention more to live music and DJ nights. We tried to establish a collective called the BMC (Bradford Music Collective) to attempt to collaborate and cross promote. This worked to varying degrees and most folks were very helpful towards each other. However, despite pleasantries, there was often an ever so slight underlying air of territorialism as quite understandably, everyone wanted to make sure they had their fair share of punters. There were only so many people to go around after all and bills had to be paid. It’s this territorialism which has plagued Bradford over the years, sometimes more than others, which any landlord or manager of one of the city’s venues, past or present will testify. It can be a tough and at times political game.

It gave me many a sleepless night and caused a number of mini-breakdowns as well as self-doubt and doubt in the trust of others. Friendships were tested as I got too close to what I was doing and I became defensive in the face of criticism. Tensions were high.

After the closure of the Mannville in November 2009, over the course of the next 7 or so years, I was to be involved in other venues, each time running myself ragged. I stepped down from regular involvement in 2014 and organised my final event at the beginning of 2016. By this time, the landscape had changed considerably. Old places had closed, making way for new places and new faces. Things seemed on the surface to be very convivial.

After 20 years of being involved in Bradford music scene events in some capacity, I did my last DJ gig on the New Year’s Eve of 2016. My lifestyle was changing. I was ready for the next phase of my life which involved moving away from the city centre and settling down a bit. I’ve still had my bands and I will always be involved in creating and playing music but the events game is not for me anymore.

So far in 2017, I have relocated home twice and my trips into town have been sparse. However, I have kept in touch with people and keep my ear to the ground as much as I can. I sense that between some parties, the politics is still ever present and with it the ill-feeling, mistrust and territorialism which have for years plagued Bradford. I have no reason to not remain neutral and I do hope that differences can be rectified for the sake of the customers above all else. When I was in the thick of it, we were stuck in the middle of a major conflict between venues. It was all very uncomfortable. The punters voted with their feet, ultimately away from the city centre and everybody lost out. The people who learned from that lesson are all now out of business or have moved away and it took a while for things to improve again. It would be a real shame to see things deteriorate again. The traits I recognise from myself of that era, I have noticed in others in more recent times. For those still involved, I would urge you to take a step back from it once in a while, settle your differences, try and cultivate a culture of support and trust and above all else, be positive. People really dig that!

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