It’s here – Debenhams opened its doors in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre today, with popular ex-Wolves player and artist, Jody Craddock, cutting the ribbon. Will the coming of the respected chain stimulate further retail growth in Wolverhampton? This remains to be seen, but hopes are high that Debenhams will prove to be a powerful cog in the Wolverhampton regeneration machine.
Debenhams is a 93,000 square foot new build construction on the Mander Centre’s south side, replacing the former TJ Hughes, Tesco and various small stores situated on the lower ramps out to St John’s Street and Bell Street – this 1960s concrete building demolished prior to the new three floor building taking shape.
The store comes with a Loaf & Bloom deli kitchen and its own branch of Costa Coffee.
Opening hours are set to be 09:00 – 17:30 weekdays, with 09:00 – 18:00 on Saturdays and 10:30 – 16:30 on Sundays.
Further regeneration is taking place on Bell Street opposite the new store, with old buildings – a former casino and Kwik Save amongst others, being demolished to make way (initially) for a car park, before this prime city centre land is marketed for something more prestigious as part of the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Southside regeneration scheme.
There’s a saying – ‘Life’s what you make it’. The organisers of Codfest must live by this mantra as they certainly make life great for a day for those lucky enough to get a ticket to this small, but lovingly crafted music festival in Codsall Wood. In its 8th year, Codfest improves each year but stays close to its original blueprint. It doesn’t grow beyond the field boundary it sits within, and the location of the arena and stalls stay in more or less the same place year on year – but tweaks to the way the festival is ran through to improvements in the selection of food and drink available are noticeable.
This is a top festival on a small scale. Musicians are, in general, local, as are those in attendance. The music is a heady mix of rock, pop, folk and, this year, the acoustic dub reggae sounds of Birmingham duo, BEAR were thrown into the mix. There’s something for everyone – highlights for us were the brilliant The Arrangements and the fun (check out the costumes) sing along crowd pleasers, The Pale Aliens – who also had a rather tasty Morton Brewery beer available in their name at the Hail to the Ale mobile bar.
Sam Draisey played on the main stage during the afternoon, with songs from his new album As I Live and Breathe (review here) going down well. Organised by Sam and father, Roy and team, Codfest is a family orientated festival. Prime evidence of this could be seen in the queue for the face-painting stall, in the merchandise on sale, but most of all by the amount of families with children in attendance.
Codfest’s tagline is ‘The Friendly Festival’. It certainly is. The festival is a safe, fun place for families to attend, the sort which breeds warm childhood memories for us to look back on fondly as adults. Many people wore fancy dress – this year’s theme was heroes & villains; amongst them was Superwoman, Michael Jackson, Freddy Mercury, a man dressed as a banana and more. Despite Roy making mention of a few setbacks late in the day during organisation of Codfest 8, they certainly weren’t noticeable to hundreds enjoying themselves into the night, many camping out, helped on by a beautiful sunny early September afternoon.
The main benefit from events like Codfest and Codsall Beer Festival (the third is to be held next month) is what it brings to the area – a sense of community; local people who care about each other sharing a good time in pleasant surroundings. Every area could do with their own version of Codfest – but not every area has dedicated people willing to volunteer their time to put on an event that will last in the memories of those in attendance. It’s a shame we have to wait a year for Codfest 9!
If you live in Wolverhampton or South Staffordshire and like music, chances are you’ve heard of – if not seen – Sam Draisey. Sam’s been about for a few years yet hasn’t quite reached the grand old age of thirty yet, which will come as shock on hearing new album, ‘As I Live and Breathe‘. Draisey sings with a real conviction, you feel his words come from the heart, from experience, at times from personal anger about politics, greed and the state of England. There are echoes of Frank Turner here, modern folk and protest. But this is far from just a protest album, there’s plenty of love and upbeat melody here to raise a smile – even the songs that deride modern society, apathy and negative attitude such as ‘Scarecrows‘ play along to a positive rhythm – that feeling of “hey, despite how it looks, life isn’t all bad so keep your chin up! Things will get better.”
A favourite of ours, ‘The Worst Lie Of All‘ tells a story that many from the working class will be familiar with, trying your best to get somewhere but having the world against you, of the wealthy turning a blind eye to the plight of those struggling to make ends meet and of people in power treating the rest of us as political pawns rather than thinking, feeling people.
‘Used To Be My Hero‘ bounds along at quite a pace, another familiar theme for listeners – musicians that had a powerful message and gained a fan-base but ended up middle of the road once they’d become successful – and comfortable, losing their edge and putting out music just to keep people happy and the money rolling in, never regaining that original passion. ‘I Won’t Ask Why‘ is a thoughtful ballad about unexpectedly falling in love and cherishing it now it’s here, come what may.
There’s a lot of experience behind ‘As I Live and Breathe’; as well as having several albums under his belt, Draisey is a regular live performer. if you haven’t seen him live, it really is worth tracking him down – a recent Facebook post on Sam Draisey Music tells us that he’s approaching his 1000th gig since he started out in 2005 (both solo and in bands such as The Replicas). This includes the Molineux, Codfest, various festivals and pub gigs such as the Newhampton Inn and The Crown, Codsall. Live, Sam holds an audience captive – we’re looking forward to hearing some of ‘As I Live and Breathe’ in person.
‘As I Live and Breathe’ is being released on 23 July at The Crown in Codsall, South Staffordshire. Entry is free and the gig starts at 20:30.
On Wednesday 30th November, Wolverhampton celebrates 150 years of the iconic Prince Albert statue in Queen Square. Affectionately known by locals today as the ‘Man on the ‘Oss’, the statue was sculpted by Thomas Thorneycroft and unveiled by Queen Victoria in 1866 – her first public appearance since the Prince Consort’s death five years earlier. 100,000 people lined the streets of Wolverhampton for Queen Victoria’s visit, which left a lasting impression on Wolverhampton – amongst others, High Green was renamed ‘Queen Square’ and Cock Street ‘Victoria Street’, names they retain to this day.
Last Wednesday, Wolverhampton was visited by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester who, alongside the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Barry Findlay, unveiled a new commemorative plaque as part of a re-dedication of the statue.
Further celebrations will take place this coming Wednesday, 30th November at 1pm, where a freedom parade will take place featuring the Freedom Units RAF Cosford, 210 Battery, West Midland Fire Brigade, West Mercia Regiment who will parade down Dudley Street replicating Queen Victoria’s parade into High Green 150 years before.
At 1.50pm, residents will be invited to raise a toast to celebrate the city and its history.
Wulfrunians are ensuring they celebrate what has become an icon of Wolverhampton. Earlier this year, the Wolverhampton branch of the Campaign for Real Ale made the 150th anniversary of the Prince Albert statue the theme of their 41st Beer Festival.
View the official PrinceAlbert150 website here.
Things aren’t all that bad in Wolverhampton and surrounding villages. We might still be struggling with a lack of shops in the city centre, but the government tells us today that they are focusing on the ‘Midlands engine’ (£12 million for Midlands Connect and the transport infrastructure for example), construction and refurbishment is ongoing throughout the city, independent businesses are thriving and people are setting up and maintaining some wonderful events that simply didn’t exist just a few years ago.
Two such events are Tettenhall’s #MakeItorBakeIt street market (which took place on 25th September) and Codsall Beer Festival (30th September and 1st October). Both events were conceived in recent years by individual with an idea, both raise money for charity and have flourished with the help of volunteers and good attendance by local people.
We attended both events for a look at how they are doing. We also took a look at Cupcake Lane cafe’s second birthday celebration, which saw a steam engine return to the former Tettenhall Railway Station.
Redevelopment is rolling on in Wolverhampton – but will the negative views of locals change? At West Wulf, we’ve seen some interesting things in the last two weeks that highlight both the best and the worst of people in our city.
Before we go any further, a quick note. Having travelled around the country, Wolverhampton is no better or worse than comparable sized cities. Throw out all the internet polls, all the negative stereotyping. We do have issues in Wolverhampton, with crime, drugs, homelessness. The recent BBC3 ‘Drugs Map of Britain’ programme, ‘Wolverhampton: Getting Off Mamba‘ (click the link to watch if you missed it) was an eye opener to many, but simply went on to reinforce the negative stereotypes of those quick to put the city down.
The truth is simple. If Wolverhampton is to improve, it will take Wulfrunians all pulling together and making the most of the city to do it. No over reliance on the government, the council, the police. It will take a big slice of the 249,000 of us here to change perceptions and it starts with talking our city up.
Unfortunately, we’ll start with a recent negative.
What can we say about this image? Lots of police. A car was just feet away from running into door staff at the Billy Wright pub on Princess Street. If it wasn’t for a lamp post, the car would have ploughed right into the front of the pub – which was reasonably busy (as you’d expect early on a Friday evening). Word on the street at the time was that the driver intentionally aimed for the pub. Whether this is true or just talk is unknown and will no doubt be revealed further down the line.
So, a sign of trouble in Wolverhampton.
And now, on the following Friday, the opposite. People coming together to protest, alongside Wolverhampton’s homeless community, in an effort to raise the profile of the plight of homeless people.
#MarchWithTheHomeless, organised by local man, Ben Aldred, provided a platform for people to show solidarity with homeless people.
Just two very different events a week apart in Wolverhampton that serve to highlight the fluid comings and goings of a modern city in England – both good and bad.
Wolverhampton folk rockers, Under A Banner, yesterday announced that they have been signed up by Bad Elephant Music, an independent record label based in Hertfordshire.
“About time too” we hear many of you say. Under A Banner have universally impressed since their formation just a few short years ago and have, since that time, gathered quite a following both at home and abroad (despite never having played a gig overseas). Their 54,400+ Twitter followers are testament to this – they have more followers than a few more established bands.
If you haven’t yet experienced Under A Banner live, there is the opportune moment approaching – you’ll need to get your hands on tickets whilst they’re available though. They play Wolverhampton’s Slade Rooms in a homecoming gig with support from The Leylines and Bleeding Hearts on Friday 29th April. Tickets available here.