diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 06, 2018

Gadabout: COVENTRY

I last blogged about Coventry ten years ago, which is good news because it means I don't have to blog about it all again. But I have revisited two of its museums that have upgraded since, and popped inside a new one, so let me tell you about them.

Coventry Music Museum

Coventry is famous as the home of 2-Tone Records, a musical phenomenon from the late 70s and early 80s, whose chief protégés were the Specials, the Selecter and the Beat. The Coventry Music Museum celebrates this legacy, and more besides, in an intriguing building opened four years ago to the east of the city. Specifically it's a fifteen minute walk beyond the ring road, including a hike up historic Far Gosford Street, home to Coventry's successful City of Culture bid. When you reach Walsgrave Road look for the arcade between Cake Box and Beer Belly, and here you enter (somewhat unexpectedly) a fully fledged 2-Tone Village complete with clothes shop, cafe, wine bar and Caribbean restaurant. Neville Staple is often to be found hanging out in one of these, so I'm told.

The Museum's open from Thursday to Sunday, costs £3 to get in, and consists of a few rooms, mostly upstairs, absolutely rammed with stuff. Its collection has been built up over the years, and is still expanding, much of it donated by fans or even members of the relevant bands themselves. That means several vinyl records, but also photos, magazine covers, gig tickets, posters, gold discs and all sorts of associated ephemera. One particularly evocative display represents the bedroom of a typical 18 year-old rude boy, and is liberally scattered with items I very much did (and very much didn't) have in mine. No other museum display has ever unnerved me quite as much as this one.

Brilliantly, the museum doesn't solely focus on 2-Tone. Instead it's up for remembering any artiste from the Coventry area, which means there's space for Frank Ifield, Lieutenant Pigeon, King, Billie Myers and The Enemy, thereby creating a brilliantly random snapshot of the UK's musical history. I grew just a little moist on spotting a Higsons white label, whereas you might be similarly engaged by a Stevenson's Rocket pin-up or a Napalm Death epaulette. One treat is that Radiophonic Workshop goddess Delia Derbyshire was Coventry-born, and an entire corner is given over to her and various bits of equipment she used to own.

One thing I'll say about the museum is it aims to be fun, and succeeds. If you're musically minded you'll enjoy the chance to pick up a guitar, drumstick or keyboard in the downstairs studio, or the opportunity to vote in the weekly Coventry Hit Parade. But most of the museum's engagement is down to its chirpy volunteers, appropriately dressed, who'd quite like to cajole you into dressing up in 2-Tone gear to appear on the museum's Facebook page. I declined, you'll be disappointed to hear, but most grin and smile. Not for nothing is this out of the way attic regularly Coventry's #1 Trip Advisor attraction.

Coventry Transport Museum

This place is a Millennium project, and a lot bigger, and I've been here before. But Coventry Transport Museum has had a major internal revamp since my previous visit, so wandering round felt like a somewhat new experience. The museum mainly tells the story of private motor transport, which was always this city's forte, but kicks off with bicycles because they're where Coventry's overwhelming expertise with wheeled manufacture began. Dozens of iconic cars are displayed around the museum's weaving route, from early Rovers via the Hillman Minx to an entire gallery of Jaguars, and the story of the UK's motor industry's inexorable rise and fall is very well told.

Those who enjoy what's under the bonnet will enjoy the engineering section, which looks more at innovation, and those of us who grew up with dozens of model toy cars will slip into utter reminiscence once they reach the section with shelves of thousands. Yes, there's a full-size London taxi, because those are still made here, and yes there's a hearse, because this place likes to be comprehensive. And at the end of the (impressively lengthy) walk-round comes Thrust 2, one-time holder of the world land speed record, plus a simulator if you'd like to experience how that might feel. The simulator costs, but the entire remainder of the museum is free, which is a transport of delight if you're ever in town.

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

In sight of the famous cathedral, the Herbert has had an extreme makeover since my last visit, and now resembles a giant greenhouse tacked onto a long brick box. All the 'history' is downstairs, from City of Spires to City of Industry to City of Dreams, because the economy's not been doing as well of late. Lady Godiva rightly gets an entire gallery to herself, while nextdoor is devoted to the thorny topic of Peace and Reconciliation, which Blitz-torn Coventry learned about the hard way. I particularly enjoyed What's in Store, a seemingly random collection of shelved goodies, including umpteen stuffed animals and a bingo machine.

Upstairs is the 'art', some temporary, some permanent. The temporary currently includes an excellent touring exhibition from the V&A focusing on the arts and crafts of the Punjab, and a separate installation in the centre of a pitch black room. The member of staff who led me inside with a torch described the artwork with barely disguised indifference, belittling the tiny etched silver SIM cards for the paucity of their meaning. I thought the artist's allegory was elegant and admired her empathy for Syrian refugees, but someone'll be very pleased when Sacred Things packs up and leaves next month.

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