February 28, 2014

This Is My Town: Blackpool
by James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

This Is My Town: Blackpool

Every month we chat to one of our lovely hmv employees to get the lowdown on their local area. This time we chat to Neil at hmv Blackpool...

First things first: I’ve arrived in Blackpool, I’ve got some time to kill – where’s the best place to get a drink and some food?

Well, if you just want a sandwich then you want to go to Roasting Today on Cheapside, it’s like a carvery /  bar, but they do really good sandwiches. If you want proper food and a drink then your best bet is Revolution Bar. There’s also really nice Italian restaurant called Sapori, which is where you should head if you’re after a proper sit-down meal. There’s not too many independent pubs unfortunately, we have a lot of chain pubs in Blackpool!

Where are the best / most unusual music nights happening? Are there any club nights that Blackpool residents / visitors should go to?

There’s a place called The Blue Room, which is like a typical ‘where-you-go-if-you-work-at-hmv' pub. They have live music on every week, mostly on Saturdays. It’s recently re-opened after having a bit of a facelift.

So is that the main venue in Blackpool?

Yeah, that’s the main one for music, there’s also a club called The ‘Tache which does some great Alternative & Metal nights. There’s also a new, up-and coming venue right at the top of Blackpool Tower, where the DJ Danny Howard has been doing a residency.

We hear you’ve been putting on some free events of your own too?

Yeah, it started off because Blackpool’s quite unique as a store - because of where we are we sometimes feel like we’re another attraction competing for people’s attention. There were so many local artists getting in touch sending us CD’s or soundcloud links, and we’d managed to get the band Goldblade in to play off the back off Rebellion, which is the largest Punk festival in the country. We did a couple more gigs last year and decided to try and make it a regular thing, with free gigs on Saturday lunchtimes. So we asked via Twitter for any bands that wanted to come in and play free gigs in the shop, and from that one tweet at the back end of last year we’ve had so many bands and artists get in touch that we’re now booked up until the end of April.

Everyone likes a free gig! So, moving on the clothes. Where should I go for the best threads?

There’s a place called Blueberries that has all your designer labels - Vivienne Westwood, Ted Baker, that kind of stuff. Also, just outside Blackpool there’s a place called Northern Rags, which is in Fleetwood, but it’s all really tied into the local music scene. There’s very much a kind of Mod culture / Northern Soul culture there still and they’ve got a load of stuff that’s a bit unique, a bit different. They support a lot of local bands as well.

Street art from the Sand, Sea and Spray festival
Street art from the Sand, Sea and Spray festival
Take a retro ride on one of Blackpool's trams!
Take a retro ride on one of Blackpool's trams!

Does Blackpool have any famous sons or daughters? Or any famous residents?

Yeah there’s loads actually. Robert Smith from the Cure was born in Blackpool - he left when he was three years old I think, but still a Blackpool lad! Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys is from here, his mum still buys two of everything when it comes out! There’s also Little Boots and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. Then you’ve got John Simm, the actor, Jenna Louise Coleman from Doctor Who and William Regal the Wrestler!

Do they come into the store?

Frank Carson used to live here and he used to come in all the time. Keith Harris comes into the store sometimes…

Keith Harris? Really? Does he bring Orville??

Sadly not, no!

Are there any good local radio shows / stations?

Yeah, there’s an internet radio station called Cowbell Radio, which is based at Blackpool Cricket Club. Their only remit really is to play good music, but they play all kinds of good stuff, House, Funk, Electronica, Reggae, whatever, just as long it’s good! They have a show called Beat Generation, which is all the Mod and Northern Soul stuff. There’s also a festival they run each May called Al Fresco. It’s a family-friendly festival, this year they’ve got A Certain Ratio to get together and play, which doesn’t happen too often. Mr. Scruff is doing a set as well I think.

Are there any Blackpool bands / artists / DJs we should be looking out for?

Steph Fraser is a singer-songwriter who has signed to Island Records, she used to busk outside the store, we even used to sell copies of her EP! She’s just bubbling under right now I think but she’s set for bigger things. Jess Roberts is a country singer from Blackpool, I think she’s just signed to EMI and she’s touring at the moment and we’ve had her playing in the store. There’s an electronic / experimental band called Savage Jaw…well, it’s just one lad really, but he’s playing in New York next month. There’s also Karima Francis and a band called Jeykll who are really young, they’re sort of Muse and Radiohead-influenced I’d say, but they’re creating a bit of a stir. Oh and Belvedere, they’re playing here tomorrow actually, they’re kind of a folky, Mumfords type band but with a female vocalist, they’re doing quite well for themselves too.  

What’s Blackpool’s best kept secret?

I’ve got to say Sand Sea and Spray, it’s an urban art festival which happens each summer. It’s graffiti, street art, that kind of stuff and it’s the second largest in the country outside of the one in Bristol. There’s always rumours that Banksy has turned up! You can walk around some of the more run-down areas in town and they’ve all got really great artwork there, it really does brighten up the place. It’s a really cool festival and it’s building and eating bigger every year. There’s music, DJs and we’ve been getting involved trying to help with sponsorship and stuff.

If you could change one thing about Blackpool, what would it be and why?

Well, it would be the reputation or perception of Blackpool I guess, it is tacky but it’s a lot of fun! Also there’s loads of historical venues like the Grand Theatre, Blackpool Tower Ballroom, The Winter Gardens. There’s so much good stuff here but it’s often overshadowed by things like 999: What’s Your Emergency? and all the stag / hen dos and all that, it gets a lot of bad press.

Do you think it suffers from that cheesy, end-of-the-pier image?

Yeah, but some of that stuff is good too. John Lennon used to come here as a kid to watch George Formby when he was a huge star and we’d get people like Frank Sinatra coming to perform here in the 50s and 60s. The music hall thing was massive and then you had all the comedians, and yes it’s tacky but there’s a rich heritage as well.

What’s the one thing I should do in Blackpool before I leave?

Visit the Comedy Carpet. It’s down on the Prom, they commissioned an artist to do it and the whole floor is decorated with quotes from TV shows, comedies, films, you can just walk up and down and spend hours chuckling to yourself.

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