Over the past three days, we’ve announced the winners of our inaugural Mic Awards. We were amazed to see over 1,000 people vote and promote the process and the winners from each of our twelve categories have finally been announced and are available to read about on our website and social media channels. In light of a staggering year in Nottingham’s music scene, we are ending the year by recognising three institutions that have bolstered the city, cultivating an exciting community for the new year. Ben Standring explains why Acoustic Rooms, Ben Mark Smith and The Bodega are our recipients of The Mic’s Special Recognition Award for 2019.
First established in 2009 Acoustic Rooms has been long-hailed as Nottingham’s premier acoustic event. Taking place at Nottingham’s iconic Rescue Rooms, with its idyllic bar background, the evening has been a perfect excuse to catch some of the finest local and touring acoustic talent free of of charge with Jake Bugg, Saint Raymond, Dua Lipa and more all taking to the stage across the years. The Mic first started providing regular coverage of the night in September 2018, and despite its growth over the past ten years, it has won a Special Recognition award in light of the extraordinary work undergone in the past twelve months to turn it not just into the biggest acoustic night in the city, but also one of the most sought-after free events for punters. The development of Acoustic Rooms is a testament to the strength in will and determination of hosts and organisers Laurie Illingworth and Sam Heaton, two outstanding musicians in their own right, yet ultimate professionals when it comes to the organisation and programming of each night. Moving away from solely being a ‘turn-up and play’ night of unpredictability, each week has slowly grown to have an established headliner from the city or from further afield, normally expanding the acoustic set-up to including a full drum kit and more. In recently memory, headline shows from Joey Collins, Karkosa and Laurie Illingworth himself with his full band have gathered huge crowds, and as the event moves into 2020, notable highlights can already be picked out. Jonny Olley’s long-awaited single launch show comes in January, whilst Jack Chapman and an International Women’s Day special also are listed for the new year. In many ways, the passion for the city’s music scene runs in a similar vein to us here at The Mic. Illingworth and Heaton have taken an idea, ran with it and honed it down to create a formula for success that is sure to benefit Nottingham’s music scene in the next ten years.
Ben Mark Smith
Over the course of the past five years, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with my fair share of musicians. None, however, have ever matched the humbleness of Ben Mark Smith, a punk-inspired troubadour in his own right, but perhaps Nottingham’s biggest supporter of the growing music scene. Earlier in the summer, I sat down with him for an hour to discuss his musical journey for a lengthy feature article. Whilst I was able to discover delightful vignettes from Smith’s life, the decision to study music despite not playing an instrument beforehand perhaps the most striking of his admissions, what shocked me the most was his ability to unabashedly wind down tangents and speak fluently and passionately about everything and everyone that the Nottingham music scene encompasses. From the pride of Jake Bugg’s meteoric rise to local legend George Gadd, to Laurie Illingworth and Tori Sheard, future stars in their own rights, his enthusiasm was electric and infectious. ‘We’re very spoilt with the music we have in Nottingham,’ he said back in the Summer, a statement that rings even truer today. ‘Having somebody from your home city doing well, and seeing someone like Jake Bugg on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, it is inspirational to people. I think Nottingham’s music scene is getting to the level, where with the likes of Jake Bugg, Sleaford Mods, Indiana, Ferocious Dog, the city is producing a lot of names for younger people to look at. What I like about Nottingham is that everybody helps each other out. The city doesn’t have a genre…’ I wrote a while ago that the world could use more people like Ben Mark Smith. In truth, the world might be a better, humbler, if slightly shorter place, but big things can be kept in small packages (I promise I’ve not been paid to write this). Writing and performing music can be a very isolationist, self-indulgent task at times, and recognising and supporting those around you can drift off into the distance never to be seen again, but you only have to do a quick look-around at a local gig or an open mic night to see Smith’s familiar, comforting face. Always present, always supporting. ‘Music will always be just a hobby until a certain point, and if I reach that certain point, maybe then I’ll start to take it really seriously,’ he shrugs. ‘At the minute I’ll listen to anybody about any gig that they want to offer me, I’ll go to anybody’s gigs, I’ll go to any open mics…I’m not shut off to anything,’ his words resting on the warm Nottingham afternoon like a lullaby in a nursery. A backbone of the flourishing acoustic setup, Ben Mark Smith epitomises the generosity and camaraderie that Nottingham has to offer. A loyal supporter, Smith’s decadent realism is a soothing reminder on how to stay down to earth, and it is with great pleasure that we’re able to recognise his efforts and involvement in furthering Nottingham’s music scene.
An institution in its own right, Nottingham’s iconic Bodega celebrated its 20th Birthday towards the end of the year, a flurry of shows including an intimate sold-out gig from The Orielles, encapsulating the eternal chaos that breathes life, sweat and tears into the venue. Arguably there is no venue as important as the Bodega, its framework for supporting Nottingham’s grassroots and rising national and global stars acting as a backbone from which the city can stand upon. Reading through the list of artists to have graced Bodega’s compact space in the past twenty years, it becomes almost a who’s who in the music business. The Strokes, The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine, Bloc Party, The Libertines, Two Door Cinema Club, The xx and The National have all played across the venue’s history, alongside thousands more. Alongside the gigs come more hedonistic happenings. The club nights are notorious and revered amongst students and locals alike, Wednesday’s Indie Wednesdays contrasting the equally exuberant The Pop Confessional all whilst managing to support local festivals including Dot to Dot and Hockley Hustle amongst others, whilst offering acoustic shows and quizzes in the downstairs bar. The Bodega’s current management have been electric in their organisation of the venue and their support of The Mic and it gives us great pleasure to bestow one of our Special Recognition Awards for 2019 upon them. Here’s to another twenty years.
2019 has been in immense year for The Mic and on behalf of its internal management team and its expanding team of writers, we want to thank everyone who's supported us and continued to embrace us as an ever-increasing part of the city's music scene. We'll be back shortly in the New Year with a host of new surprises and announcements. Look after one another and have a scintillating new year.