News of Lancashire’s recent bid for UK City of Culture 2025 – and the central role Preston will play in it – seems to have been met with some consternation; a select few were cautiously optimistic, another select few scoffed at the idea there’s any intersection between Preston and culture, and a further select few questioned the economic impact, fearing a ‘culture’ levy being added to their council tax bill.Advertisement
While I can’t pretend to have the inside scoop on taxation rates, I thought I’d go in search of this elusive culture; no-one’s pretending Preston in 2021 is on a cultural par with renaissance-era Paris but we must have some, right? Sure, we can bring up that Preston was the first coal lit town outside of London in the UK, that the first motorway was built here – but let’s say you’re not interested in heavily polluted street lighting or driving away, what does Preston have to offer these days?
When I was a young man about town in 2002 it seemed Preston was dripping in culture; there were punk AND metal AND thrash bands playing at the Fighting Cock regularly. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Preston’s most successful dance club Feel had sweating, neon-draped and amphetamine-enhanced youths throwing shapes en-masse, but of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that.
Read more: I grew up in Byrons – Saturday night memories of the Preston nightclub 30 years on
So, with the caveat that this list is in no way definitive nor in any particular order, let’s see what’s out there…
People are always telling me, ‘Look mate, I’m not being funny but…’ in quite an aggressive tone. However, what if you’re after someone who is specifically trying to be funny? Well, Preston has got you covered. ROFL Comedy Club, which opened in May this year, has Friday and Saturday performances from comedians around the country.
There hasn’t been a dedicated comedy venue in Preston since the Frog and Bucket croaked in 2014. As we’ve been sadly mainly reliant on friends and family to tell us jokes for almost seven years now, it’s a relief to finally have some touring comedians visiting the city to make us laugh professionally.
Although a comparatively small venue, The Ferret attracts a raft of bands and performers; in fact, the last gig I went to there featured acoustic sets from the frontmen of The Seahorses, Dodgy and The Bluetones. It was like being pelted in the face with a trebuchet of Britpop. Of course, to some, that level of mid 90s indie anthems is as appealing as getting your genitals stuck in a concrete paver.
Fortunately the Ferret’s upcoming events list already reaches to next February and punches well above its weight in terms of the variety of artists the venue has managed to secure; from hotly tipped up-and-comers to established touring acts.
That said, in the interests of balance, it should be noted that the band Royal Blood apparently played their worst-ever gig there, citing issues like ‘it was raining’ and ‘only three people came’ and on that fateful, apparently rainy night, the term Depreston was coined. (No hard feelings though, Royal Blood. Figure It Out was a good tune, assuming you’ve not heard of the White Stripes.)
While Preston’s Charter Theatre has no upcoming shows scheduled, an operation on a somewhat different scale has managed to raise its curtains once again after 18 months. Tucked away behind Friargate on Market Street West, the Playhouse regularly brings together local community theatre groups including Broughton Players, Preston Gilbert and Sullivan Society, The Hall Players, Preston Musical Comedy Society and Preston Drama Club for shows.
While I understand that AmDram might not be for everyone (Google it, there’s some extremely cutting remarks on the internet on the matter) in my experience, at worst it provides a good anecdote at best it’s… pretty good. I’m showing my age here, but none other than Nigel Planer (Neil!) from cult 1980s BBC2 show The Young Ones had a play showing there earlier this month. These days he’d rather be known for his fiction writing and cook books but… I don’t really like cooking and I do like 80s cult TV so, there’s the breaks, sorry Nigel.
Opinion: Lack of arts venues is leaving the people of Preston without cultural engagement
I’m sure we’re all aware that Preston has six different museums (though in fairness, three of them do seem to be listed at the same address), but at no point in any of Preston’s museums has anyone ever advanced upon me with sword and shield in defence of the realm, then retired for a flagon of mead regaling flaxen-haired maidens with their heroic deeds along with lute music and good cheer.
Fortunately, Normannis Preston has plugged this very obvious gap in the market as a historical recreation society offering lessons on 12th century combat, craft workshops, history lessons and social meet-ups. Unfortunately, Normannis Preston has been closed due to Covid, with no word on when they’ll be putting on further events. However, if you’re walking the dog on Avenham Park and you happen to see several groups of people in chain mail, flailing spears at each other in the marching colours of King Stephen of Blois, rest assured it’s not a police matter.
If we’re going for the lowest common denominator, the absolute bare minimum requirement to satisfy the definition of culture, never let it be said that there aren’t a lot of places to drink beer and eat food in Preston. Whether your tastes run to the fine Old Fashioned they prepare at Lonely People, to the diverse range of imported beers from The Moorbrook to the antique chalk taste of Wetherspoons chips, Preston has got you covered.
Special mention should also go to the Continental which has regularly hosted poetry evenings, writing classes, independent cinema screenings and live music. With an honourable mention to go to the Princess Alice, one punter remarked: “Best ratio of floor space to number of screens in Preston!” It’s certainly a niche recommendation but if you want to watch telly on a night out it’s hard one to beat.
In the month of September alone Preston is playing host to… The Collective Weekender (a host of free events across the city focusing on art, animation, craft, dance and choir workshops), multiple Heritage Open Days events (helping people explore Preston’s history and discover new places and stories), Preston City Mela (a vibrant celebration of South Asian arts, music, dance, culture and heritage), three nationally-renowned poets (Tony Walsh, Luke Wright and Attila the Stockbroker), Lancashire Encounter (a festival of performance, art and music across the city), a new exhibition at The Birley (including a Turner Prize winner), and a new Wallace and Gromit bench (providing much needed seating for the city centre).
There we have it, so much culture I couldn’t begin to cover it all within my word limit. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, let us know in the comments below…
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