The email I received asked if I would like to come to Nomadic Brewery for a presentation from Compass Live Art about the role of pubs in our lives entitled Public House. After due deliberation, lasting well over a second and a half, I accepted. As you can see by the photograph on my website which was taken in 1950, I have already been doing a lot of research into the subject.
When I arrived the bar was in full swing and there was a range of finger food spread out on a table so, after pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream, I partook of both types of sustenance. Nomadic had put a couple of their wonderful beers on line, namely Strider and Pale, both of which were in excellent form, and so they should be coming straight from the cask which had travelled all of ten yards. After we were given the chance of a chat and a mingle the presentations began.
First up was Gaffa Kate, the owner of Nomadic, who told the story of the company so far and got us up to speed about its current success and the increasing number of outlets selling their products, not just in Leeds, not just in Yorkshire and not just in the UK but now abroad as well. A very positive beginning.
Annie Lloyd, a Co-Director of Compass Live Art gave an update as to the progress of the Biennial Festival, the next of which will take place in 2020, in which Public House will be a feature. It was the brainchild of Simon Persighetti and Katie Etheridge who were also involved in the very first Compass Live Arts Festival which was just a weekender in 2011. Yes, I know that if the first one was in 2011 and they are every two years, the maths doesn’t work for there to be one in 2020, but we were in a brewery with free beer, right, and so it all made perfect sense at the time. As with everything organised by Compass there will be no charge for any of the events on the programme so what is not to like. The Festival will be artist driven including five who were invited to Leeds in order to take part in artist residencies. The two presenters tonight were involved in that scheme.
It was then on to the double act of Etheridge and Persighetti who took the floor to explain all about Public House. The idea started in 2018 with a project trialled at pubs in Kirkgate. They had special pint glasses printed with four different slogans and ideas designed to get people talking about pubs and what they mean to society. They said that everyone has a ‘third place’, which is somewhere other than home and where they have to be, such as work or studying etc, where they feel comfortable, safe, accepted and happy which, for a lot of the population, is a pub. It is described as a viral artwork in that it relies on the word being spread to make it function. The focus for 2019 was ‘exchange’ which entailed Mike and Kate from Nomadic Brewery visiting Penryn in Cornwall to share experiences with the people at Granite Rock Brewery. Earlier this month the visits were reversed with the people from Granite Rock coming to Leeds.
The presentation wasn’t just a lecture but was interspersed with video clips. I had to smile at one of them where pub drinkers were asked what they would like to see in a local twenty years from now. There were the expected replies concerning good beer, efficient and friendly service and family areas but from a personal point of view what I would really love to see in the pub of twenty years hence would be the reflection of a bald, bearded, bespectacled ninety-year-old man looking back at me from the tap room mirror with a pint in his hand! We were also asked to approach a stranger and find out something about them including their third space which was very interesting.
The evening ended with a song from Greg Mulholland called Last of England and bemoaned the closure of so many well-known and not so well-known boozers which were once the heart of their communities. It paraphrased a poem by Hilaire Belloc and worked very well. I prefer to look on the bright side as I feel that the monopoly of the large breweries is being broken by the new breed of independents like Nomadic and the others, many of which are based in Leeds. Whilst they are so passionate about what they do I am sure that there is every hope for local pubs, if only something can be done about cheap supermarket beer.
No one seems to know where this project will lead so I am looking forward to finding out at next year’s festival. In the meantime I will continue doing my in-depth research into the pubs of Leeds and beyond on my own behalf. I will be very happy to share my experiences with Simon and Katie, if only I can remember what they are.