Norwich native Alex Nelson takes us on a journey through the musical hot-spots of the city, ahead of it hosting Radio 1’s Big Weekend in May.
With news that this year’s iteration of Radio 1’s Big Weekend (the biggest free music event in Europe no less) is to be held in the admittedly surprising location of Norwich, the eyes of the music world are going to be turned towards the Norfolk city for quite some time.
Hailing from Norwich myself, and remembering many a sunny summer’s day paddling in the river in a secluded corner of Earlham Park, it seems strange that for one weekend in May this year the area will be packed with thousands of revellers taking in some of the biggest names in pop. The idea of Taylor Swift trundling up the notoriously slow-moving A11, stuck behind a tractor on her way to the show, just doesn’t compute.
But hey, I’m not doing much to shun the stereotypical image of rural Norfolk with that last paragraph am I? So with that in mind, here is a guide to Norwich for all the music lovers out there.
Music in Norwich doesn’t simply end when the last of the tent supporting girders have been shipped off on the back of a lorry, and the city has seen quite a resurgence in its local music scene over the last few years.
The Waterfront – Photo: Simon Turkas /Flickr CC
Norwich Arts Centre
When mentioning music venues in Norwich, the Arts Centre is the one that first comes to mind 90 per cent of the time. Winner of this year’s prestigious NME Best Small Venue award, it really is one of the best in the country. Being situated inside a converted church makes for an interesting backdrop to any musical performance, and its 290 capacity makes it the perfect size for catching bands on the up, as well as bigger acts looking to host a slightly more intimate gig. Regular Art Exhibitions in the foyer, laid back musical performances in the bar (open all day and serving a great menu of hot food), and a program that includes comedy and theatre all add up to one of the more welcoming and friendly places on the circuit. A home from home for regular visitors.
51 Saint Benedicts Street, NR2 4PG (01603 660352, norwichartscentre.co.uk)
If the Arts Centre’s converted church innards make for an interesting performance space, then EPIC Studios takes it one step further by hosting gigs inside a working television studio (the same studios that once hosted daytime chat show classic Trisha, no less). The main benefit of performing inside a room full of television and recording equipment is that you can use that equipment to your advantage. And that’s exactly what EPIC do, live streaming all of their gigs and performances on to the internet for the ticket-less back home.
114 Magdalen Street, NR3 1JD (01603 727727, epicstudiosnorwich.com)
The closest thing Norwich has to a fully fledged rock club, the Waterfront down by the River Wensum plays host to many a mid-level touring band on their way to the big time. Regular club nights fill in the schedules when the live bands fall silent too.
139-141 King Street, NR1 1QH (01603 632717, ueaticketbookings.co.uk)
Norwich’s biggest and busiest venue in terms of touring bands, the University of East Anglia may be situated a short bus ride out of the city centre, but it’s one of the best equipped venues in the region.
Union of UEA Students, University of East Anglia, NR4 7TJ (01603 508050, ueaticketbookings.co.uk)
A big – and relatively new – addition to Norwich’s ever-growing venue scene, the grand interior of OPEN’s main room hosts some of the biggest bands on the touring circuit, while the smaller, grungier club room plays hosts bands on-the-up and local acts.
20 Bank Plain, NR2 4SF (opennorwich.org.uk)
Just because an establishment isn’t a “proper” venue, doesn’t mean it can’t host its fair share of live music from time to time, and just about every bar and pub in Norwich will have some form of live entertainment throughout the week. Here are some notable mentions:
The Birdcage Pub
Regular acoustic gigs downstairs in the ‘ballroom’ area, as well as cabaret nights, poetry, comedy, and open mic nights.
23 Pottergate, NR2 1DS (01603 633534, thebirdcagenorwich.co.uk)
The city’s sole Picturehouse cinema hosts a night of live acoustic music in its bar area under the banner of OST (or Original Sound Track) every other Tuesday night.
St Andrews Street, NR2 4AD (0871 902 5724, picturehouses.com/cinema/Cinema_City)
The Bicycle Shop
A quaint bar adorned with vintage cycling paraphernalia by day, this is one of the city’s best underground stops for acoustic music by night.
17 Saint Benedicts Street, NR2 4PE (01603 625777, thebicycleshopcafe.com)
With Norwich being sat slightly on its own in geographical terms – on “Albion’s hind quarters” to quote Alan Partridge – it’s been afforded the room to develop an outstanding cultural identity of its own, full of creativity. Nowhere is that more apparent than Soundclash, Norwich’s top record store, which houses in its modest interior just about anything you could ask for. And if they don’t have it, it can always be ordered in. Part of the Norwich Lanes area (which has just won a prestigious national high street award), be sure to add Soundclash to your ‘to do’ list in the city.
28 St Benedicts St, NR2 4AQ (01603 761004, soundclash-records.com)
One of the most beloved record stores in Norwich and an often bypassed gem situated near the much-neglected Anglia Square, Beatniks offers everything from vinyl to CDs, from video games to gig posters. Rarities often sneak in here with not-so-rare pricetags, so well worth a regular browse for the latest stock.
50 Magdalen Street, NR3 1JE (01603 616445)
For a good ol’ musty record shop, make sure you take a visit to Circular Sound, which alongside your usual record store wares also stocks vintage and antique film and TV memorabilia, including magazines and a vast collection of signed photographs.
5 Saint Benedicts Street, NR2 4PE (07990 618293, circularsound.musicstack.com)
Fine City Sounds
One of Norwich’s newest record shops, don’t let the overly organised racks foil you. This is a record shop as charming as any other.
22 Pottergate, NR2 1DX (01603 630727)
Photo: Chris Friese / Flickr CC
Norwich Sound & Vision
Norwich’s answer to SXSW is growing steadily with every year. Taking advantage of every venue the city has to offer (and often discovering some cracking new gig spaces into the bargain), Norwich Sound & Vision looks set to continue as one of the country’s premier inner city festivals.
A 50 minute drive out of the city, maybe, but over its ten year history Latitude Festival has established itself as one of the big contenders on the summer festival scene. Billing itself as “more than just a music festival”, the event also features performances from the very best in theatre, poetry, film and more.
If you thought it was strange for Norwich to be hosting such a high-profile pop music event as the Big Weekend, you obviously haven’t come across Sundown. From humble beginnings comes a festival that regularly draws some of the biggest names in pop, along with the next-best-things. And you thought “I saw them before they were famous” conversations were only reserved for skinny indie bands…
Find these great places on our handy map:
Red = Venue
Yellow = Record shop
Green = Event
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