Keep Creating / Student Tips

Keep Exploring: Finding Gems in Our Musical Cities

1st July 2020

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Here at BIMM Institute, we’re proud to have colleges in cities where music matters most. Whether you want to follow in the footsteps of music legends, join innovative and emerging music scenes, or create something of your own, you’re sure to find plenty of creative inspiration in our five UK cities: Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, London and Manchester.

And while on the surface it might seem like the plethora of music venues, record shops, record labels, pubs and restaurants are the biggest draw, the UK’s recent lockdown situation has made our students and graduates alike treasure their cities more than normal. When forced to adopt a slower pace, many have come to really appreciate their city’s beauty, while some have even discovered new outdoor spaces and hidden gems.

We caught up with five students, graduates and mentors from each of our cities to find out what makes their location special – and why they wouldn’t change it for anywhere else.

Birmingham by Stella, Songwriting

We have loads of green spots in Birmingham, despite being the second biggest city. I’ve personally reconnected with nature during lockdown, spending lots of time in woodland and parks. Also, one of the best parts of my lockdown without the luxury of social interaction in venues/pubs has been travelling along the canal routes, walking or cycling. The canals are beautiful and anywhere with a flowing stream of water is so cathartic and serene.

One early morning, I walked along the canal from Digbeth up to Millennium Point, where I was greeted by a small strip of tropical-looking plants and trees. Adventuring along the canals is great because you can safely get lost and have lots of fun trying to get to where you want to be.

If travelling along, or nearby, the famous Pershore Road or Bristol Road, you pass Calthorpe Park, Cannon Hill Park and Edgbaston Reservoir. Also, taking any adventurous routes through Digbeth is fascinating.

I recently visited Kinver and Clent just outside Birmingham. Both include lots of hill-climbing, but once you reach the top, the views are incredible and breathtaking.

Cannon Hill Park, Mosely Bog and Sutton Park are a few of my favourite parks.

The green spots we have are one of Birmingham’s finest attributes and I’ve spent so much time there grounding myself, remembering the beauty in the smallest of things and helping calm the storm of thoughts and worries that arose due to lockdown. Because Birmingham is also trying hard to have a ‘clean-air’ space, being outdoors is a physically pleasurable experience.

“We all miss the venues that live [in Digbeth], but just standing in the streets, surrounded by wall art and hanging lights above is enough to spur a creative flow and get inspired.”

The best place for creativity in Birmingham is Digbeth, which is the home of BIMM Birmingham. It’s full of colour, warm energy and like-minded people. We all miss the venues that live there, but just standing in the streets, surrounded by wall art and hanging lights above is enough to spur a creative flow and get inspired.

At the beginning of lockdown, I was on King’s Heath high street and all the distressed customers of Asda were met by a man playing the conga drum and singing at the top of his lungs. It was such a beautiful thing to witness and everyone felt similarly soothed by his positive spirit, despite the difficult circumstances.

I’m most looking forward to Deadwax reopening. After they recently rebranded, the place is super quirky, different and eccentric and a perfect place for you to go and explore yourself and your comfort boundaries. I’m also looking forward to all the little independent shops and cafes reopening. I miss seeing familiar business owners’ faces and being welcomed into their building as if it were my family home.

Brighton by Kashi Chellen, Event Management

I think it’s really easy to go a little insane during this weird time, especially with the fact that we are having to find all sorts of new ways to entertain ourselves and to give ourselves a bit more purpose. I have found that the best way to enjoy Brighton has been by utilising all the amazing green spaces we have, as well as the beach! I’ve been going for a lot of walks in a beautiful field up by the racecourse on Bear Road, which overlooks Brighton. It is stunning at golden hour.

I would definitely recommend walking up Bear Road through the field across the racecourse and then down into Kemptown. It is definitely a quieter route, which is lush. I usually take that route until I end up at the beach and then I walk back home to Hanover through Queen’s Park.

I definitely find a lot of solace and comfort at the beach; in particular, the slightly quieter parts in Kemptown. There are so many wonderful green spaces in Brighton if the beach is not your thing. There are lots of lovely places to go for hikes and cups of tea in the park. My favourite is definitely Queen’s Park.

“I find the little cove behind the pond in Queen’s Park to be very calming and a wicked place to be inspired.”

When it comes to sparking creativity and having a good space to do that, I find the little cove behind the pond in Queen’s Park to be very calming and a wicked place to be inspired. I often go there with a cup of tea and a book or my journal, and I find it so relaxing. It’s also still really nice to walk through the Lanes in the evenings.

We are so lucky to have spaces like Devil’s Dyke to be able to go visit and have a little hike. I find that the huge expanse of green space is really inspiring for my creative process. I feel both incredibly peaceful and motivated there.

Steyning is also a beautiful and homely little town with lots of lovely family-owned farmer shops. It also has lots of green spaces!

I am definitely really excited about all the music venues reopening. But, I’d say I am most excited to be able to go and have a nice lunch at PomPoko and then head over to Deadwax for a pint!

Bristol by Georgia Szygowska, Mentor at BIMM Bristol

Our Mentors are currently part of our Student Mentor Scheme. It’s just one strand of our friendly and fantastic support network in each of our BIMM colleges. So, if you’re planning on joining us this September, our mentors will be on hand to offer advice, guidance and support. They know exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes. So, who better to provide all the insider information you need to make the most of your chosen city? Here’s Georgia’s advice on her city of Bristol… 

The first thing I would suggest is to get a bicycle! The beauty of Bristol is that it isn’t that big. You can be in a different part of the city within 15 minutes on two wheels. This gives you so much freedom to explore all that this glorious city has to offer. From the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge to the colourful streets of Bedminster, take the time to wander around the pockets of Bristol you’re unfamiliar with and spot a Banksy – or three – on the way.

Technically, I didn’t discover this place, but having more free time on my hands meant I was actually able to go and visit the gem that is Abbot’s pool. Tucked away – about a five-minute drive from the Clifton Suspension Bridge – in some woodland, is this large pool people use to wild swim and fish! It’s a real beauty spot just on the edge of the city.

While I was studying, and at the end of a stressful day of essay writing in the library, I would head to the floating harbour and sit on the jetty – maybe even dip my feet in the water depending on how close the nearest swan was – and enjoy the calm stillness of the water. My particular favourite spot is opposite the SS Great Britain, with a great view of the multi-coloured Clifton houses that sit just on top of the Hotwells Road.

One of the things I love about Bristol is the number of green spaces it has to offer.

No matter which part of the city you’re in, you’re guaranteed to find some form of open green space. Even the very centre of the city has Castle Park, where the ruins of a castle sit amongst a long green space, and atop the river which flows through the city.

During my stressful dissertation days, I would often wander up to the Clifton Downs and take a few moments of fresh air to help clear and ease my mind. The Ashton Court Estate is another great outside space,  just 10 minutes from the city centre. It’s an amazing 850-acre park, covered in wood and grassland where you can see fantastic views of the city without hearing its hum.

“Visit the gem that is Abbot’s pool. Tucked away – about a five-minute drive from the Clifton Suspension Bridge – in some woodland, is this large pool people use to wild swim and fish! It’s a real beauty spot just on the edge of the city.”

If you’re up for taking a walk, I have two favourite routes. The first is all the way through and to the top of Ashton Court, then a walk over Brunel’s Suspension Bridge into Clifton Village. From Clifton, you can either go and explore the Downs and the awesome Avon Gorge or go through the village and back into the centre via Park Street.

My second recommendation would be to research a Banksy tour walk. During non-lockdown times, you could arrange a Banksy tour, where a tour guide would take you to all the famous Banksy spots in Bristol. But, I’m sure it would be easy enough to create your own tour by finding out where all the Banksy works are and guiding yourself there.

Now I live and work here, I have fully taken advantage of Bristol’s proximity to the countryside and enjoy exploring the delights of North Somerset’s countryside, Cheddar Gorge and the beautiful sandstone city that is Bath – literally a 10-minute train journey from Bristol Temple Meads.

I’m really looking forward to all the bars, pubs and microbreweries opening on King Street. King Street is a famous 17th century cobbled street in the heart of the centre with most of the original architecture. It’s home to the Bristol Old Vic – the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world.

I’m also looking forward to all the independent shops, coffee shops and bars opening up on North Street in Bedminster. It’s a great place to go to drink both great coffee, and have a delicious quiet beer or two.

London by Kelly Barnes, Mentor at BIMM London

While most of us at BIMM are in London to play gigs and rehearse, I’d definitely recommend exploring all areas of London. Grab a Boris bike and ride through Hyde Park. Grab a takeaway coffee and walk along the river (you could walk along Southbank or Regent’s Canal). You could also do a long walk around Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park – they’re amazing to explore and take a picnic.

If you are interested in taking up a new hobby, you could hire some rackets and play tennis in Regent’s Park, or head to Lee Valley Olympic Park – they do loads of different activities there like kayaking, rowing and paddle boarding.

I used to go to Bishops Park a lot, which is just off Putney Bridge. It’s actually quite hidden away, so you wouldn’t really know it was there, but it is stunning as you can walk right by the river. There’s also Fulham Palace inside the park, which is a historic building and has lovely gardens. You can walk around there for free and it doesn’t feel like you are in the city at all. You can access it from Bishops Park; just look out for the signs or walk towards the huge house. Of course, they also have a coffee shop and an amazing space to sit and relax.

My other favourite place is Regents Park Road in Primrose Hill. It is such a beautiful part of London and you can carry on up to the top of Primrose Hill for the views. If you go here, make sure you head to Sweet Things for coffee and cake, or Pesantissimo for the BEST pizza. Both of these are currently open.

Camden is great for musical inspiration. When venues are allowed to open again, I’m sure there will be so many gigs going on every night like before.

When Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opens as normal, they’ll have music every night. They also have gigs upstairs, which features lots of different genres and not just jazz! It’s a lot cheaper than downstairs and you can usually get tickets on the door. I happened to drop in one Friday night and there was a Cuban band on – it turned out to be such a fun night and also opened my eyes to a new genre.

Another good thing to do is book a ticket for a Sofar Sounds show. It’s great because you don’t know the line up until you arrive at the venue, and the venues are always quirky and super intimate. I found some incredible inspiration from the artists there and I think the mystery is really exciting.

If I was ever feeling a little overwhelmed, coffee shops were always the place to clear my head. I went through a phase of trying every coffee shop in Fulham and there are so many lush places to go. My favourite was Love Walk cafe as I was a regular and it felt like a safe space. Also, Chairs and Coffee cafe is super cosy.

At Southbank Centre, there is also a huge open plan work area where you can take your laptop or a book to read. It’s really nice to be in a new space, other than your home or BIMM, where you can grab refreshments and work for free. I liked going there to clear my mind or to focus on something that I needed to get done.

“If I was ever feeling a little overwhelmed, coffee shops were always the place to clear my head. I went through a phase of trying every coffee shop in Fulham and there are so many lush places to go.”

I also love wandering through central London, but exploring along the back streets and discovering the most insane houses! If you head to somewhere like Knightsbridge and go to the back streets, you will come across some amazing houses. I love being nosey and find it so fascinating.

When I was studying, I loved doing day trips and weekend trips. It’s nice to get out of the city sometimes and it really refreshes you. Surrey is a great place to go if you like the countryside, pubs and walks. We got an Airbnb near the Surrey Hills and had a super relaxed weekend there. In my first year, a group of us camped near Penzance in Cornwall – it’s the best place to go if you love the beach.

When things return to ‘normal’, I’m looking forward to watching live music at all the amazing venues and to be able to do all the amazing activities that we usually might take for granted, like indoor mini-golf, comedy clubs, cinema and the theatre. We are so lucky that we can do almost anything in London and it’s on our doorstep. I think after lockdown, we are going to appreciate what it has to offer so much more.

Manchester by Emanuel J Burton, Drums

Photo Credit: Reuben Moore

I’d definitely recommend getting into nature as much as possible while you’re in Manchester. There are some beautiful parks that lots of people have been going to recently, such as Fletcher Moss Park and Botanical Gardens, Manchester Ship Canal, Didsbury Park and Platt Fields Park. Everybody is so friendly. My favourite outdoor spot might have to be Piccadilly gardens though.

“In terms of musical inspiration, late-night walks through the city centre with music blasting in my ears always provides a creative spark for me.”

In terms of musical inspiration, late-night walks through the city centre with music blasting in my ears always provides a creative spark for me. I also spent time with my family in a small town nearby called Loughborough. It’s a very chilled place to be and you’re surrounded by lots of nature.

I’m looking forward to when things return to normal a bit more. I’m ready to go back to a few places: the studio, the BIMM practice rooms, the basketball gym and my favourite Caribbean restaurant in the whole of Manchester: Eat n’ Sweet.

BIMM is the perfect place to keep exploring and creating – as well as keep collaborating, learning, innovating, connecting and achieving. Don’t think you have to wait until Results Day to start your application process. Apply for Priority Clearing today and start your life in music.

Author

Loulou Baylis