A lockdown love letter to Norwich: Part 13 by Ben Street

One of a series of love letters to Norwich during the coronavirus lockdown of 2020. A few local people reflecting on what they miss, about everyday life in the city.

Norwich is an enchanting place… music emanates from little hubs of creativity scattered across the city and down every winding path there’s something wild to discover.

Since moving back to the city, almost two years ago now (everyone gravitates back here eventually) I’ve fallen for Norwich all over again. Honestly, I’d never intended to return to the city of my birth. Having spent the last 7 years touring the world in a band, I’d got used to living a fairly transient existence spending months on tour buses and dropping in and out of scattered creative communities from Oz to the US. Maybe that’s why the city; its character, its music and most importantly its people had such a profound impact on me. I was hungry for a sense of belonging, keen to be part of a wider collective identity and Norwich welcomed me with open arms…

Although Norwich has always possessed a unique charm, from the cobbled maze of The Lanes to the myriad of flint churches, restaurants and independent coffee stops that punctuate St Benedict’s and beyond… this past decade has seen a number of changes. The city’s market has transformed into a haven for multi-culturalism and all manner of culinary delights. Music venues have appeared, adding to the cities musical and cultural character and a wealth of new bars, cafes, tattoo parlours and social spaces has transformed Norwich into a vibrant, community-driven metropolis.

It’s this progressive and exciting new Norwich that convinced me to lay down some roots put my hand to promotion and, in a bold and mildly irrational leap, found and direct a new multi-venue festival. Wild Paths was conceived over drinks at The Playhouse with a handful of Norwich’s finest promoters and begun to take shape over the following months as local venue directors, businesses and the council offered their support. Like a snowball, the project rolled onward gathering key funding from the Arts Council and attracting a talented array of contributors, many of whom make up the current Wild Paths team.

October rolled around all too quick and before we knew it the first day of the festival was upon us. 23 venues came to life and over 250 artists, bands, conference speakers and DJ’s took to stages all across Norwich to entertain the crowds. The zenith of this collaborative city-wide celebration came when on Sunday night, after a short interlude – the evacuation of Open Banking Hall triggered by an over-zealous fire alarm – Jose Gonzalez took to the stage and played Heartbeats to a wide-eyed festival crowd. Stood in that grand old Banking Hall surrounded by a community of friends and supporters, time finally stood still long enough for me to appreciate how grateful I was to this city and the unique community of people that call it home.

It seems slightly tragic that at the time of writing this love letter I’ve just had to make the difficult but inescapable decision to cancel this year’s Wild Paths; However, emboldened by the community that sustains it Wild Paths is set to return to Norwich in 2021 to celebrate the city and its music in an even more extravagant fashion.

To everyone who contributed and helped deliver the festival in 2019 and to the city that gave it a home… Thank you x

About the Author

Ben Street

Ben Street spent a large portion of his formative years touring the world with Warner-signed, alt-indie band Coasts. He is founder/Director of Norwich’s Wild Paths Festival.

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