Tour Diary - 3rd September 2013 - A man who loses his shadow; Ghosts in the Caves of Nottingham
In July I released my album ‘The Water or the Wave’ and I went on the road, for the first time, as a solo performer. The first stop, sticking out like a rose amongst the shire sticks by being a full three weeks before, was The Malt Cross in Nottingham’s city centre. It was drivable from home and I spent a lazy morning starting a new book called ‘Peter Schlemiel’, an eighteenth century novella about a man who trades his shadow for all the riches in the world. The devil was involved of course, he always is. I also indulged in my addiction for coffee and having decided not to take my dog with me, I set off for the highway.
Nottingham seemed a city trying hard to shed its recent notoriety as being the gun capital of England. The city centre seemed to have an impenetrable shell of overpriced NCP car parks but once inside this shell there were broad lanes overlooked by large ornate guild hall like buildings. The town hall sat proud in the centre like a mini-St. Paul’s Cathedral. I milled about The Works Bookshop and purchased a few books.
The Malt Cross was a beautifully ornate music hall built in 1877. I was lucky enough to be shown around the building and was led down an iron gated staircase from the street down into the sub street levels. The Malt Cross had originally been composed of two mezzanine levels and two floors. The very bottom floor, below ground level had been an ice skating rink and then a billiard hall. The ground floor, which now housed the drinking area, was originally a glass floor that allowed people to watch the skating from above. I was told by the promoter that the hall had lost its licence every two or three years due to prostitution or other misdemeanours. Now, we stood in the musty darkness of a gutted Indian restaurant that had been closed for a couple of years.
We wandered the debris and found treasures at every turn. The banister, it was believed, was from an old boat or galleon and exposed brick work would have been from an eighteenth century pub that had originally been across the road. The hall was built opposite the site of a mediaeval monastery and I bore that in mind as we descended yet more stairs.
It got colder and darker and we eventually found ourselves in sandstone caves. The people of Nottingham regularly lived in these caves throughout the centuries, as late as the 1920s I was told. It was mystical down in those caves and we saw ancient gate pins and sandstone shelves where they would keep the carcasses of cows ready to be cooked for the patrons upstairs. There were black soot marks on the wall, possibly left by the monks. A well stood at one end of the room, choked now with leaves and debris. In the next room an ornate boiler, the like of which I have never seen, sat squat in the darkness; all pipes and grills spanning out like spider’s legs across the walls. We turned back ready to find street level again, like a deep sea diver we ascended each floor, each becoming more modern and closer to the sounds of life out on the street. But I will never forget, as we left the dank hollow of the cave, I swear I could see out of the corner of my eye the furtive movement of robed men in the shadows.