When I finally find my way through the maze that is the former shoe factory in St Mary’s Plain, I realise there are many more plain places to conduct an interview.
The former shoe factory turned social club is a grand reminder of Norwich’s industrial past as one of England’s shoe-making capitals. While its fine industrial qualities remain on the outside, the interior is very bare. There are plasterboards, low lighting and a couple of chairs.
You can sense a regeneration is in motion, and the dense space of the warehouse amplifies the sound of drilling and sawing. Industrial conversions like this one are in fashion on the music scene. Norwich lad Ben Street was the drummer for Bristol-based pop-punk act Coasts, a band with two studio albums to their name and a dedicated listenership on Spotify.
Since he called time on the band in 2018, he has relocated to Norwich. The Wild Paths festival is a multi-venue inner-city festival that spreads over the weekend of the 18th to 20th October. It features a range of different artists, from Jose Gonzalez to Black Honey and Anna Meredith.
The festival covers a whopping 18 venues across the city.
These venues include Norwich Arts Centre, Epic Studios, and the very building we were sitting in, the Shoe Factory Social Club as they plan to call it.
What I want to know is the reason behind Wild Paths.
Why has Street founded it? And why has he designed it as an inner-city, multi-venue festival?
Street explains, “It was a chance for some new exposure, a pulling point to attract people to what the city already has, rather than doing it on an out of town green field site.
“With it being an inner-city festival it was to show how many venues Norwich has, I think some people are under the misapprehension Norwich suffers from a lack of venues, when it doesn’t,” he adds.
Street also mentions other cities that have a similar set up.
“You’ve got Brighton with Great Escape, the Tramlines in Sheffield and [they] have been really successful with it.”
Street hopes Wild Paths will mimic their success in Norwich.
Street explains Norwich had something similar to this before when the city hosted the Sound and Vision festival.
He admits it was “a success” but with Wild Paths he wants to make it more extensive and eclectic in the coverage of music.
For that to happen, organisation is a priority. There are venues to refurbish, staff to hire, acts to book. For Street the organisation process was very much a 24/7 thing getting to book with venues and acts. Street believes it has similarities in terms of the touring aspect with Coasts, being on the road, but it has still been a 24/7 7 days a week thing.
At the heart of this journey and festival Street tells me is collaboration.
One of the ways he’s achieving this with the festival is by nurturing relationships between the various venues in Norwich and local businesses, trying to reflect an aspect of community, as Street points out.
He admits despite the LCR and Waterfront being in collaboration with the same event booker, Uea(su), there has been a lack of collaboration between Norwich’s other venues, particularly OPEN and Epic Studios’.
In the past, Street says there was some bad blood, but he hopes the festival can foster a more collaborative approach.
On the subject of collaboration, I ask him about the festival sponsorship and about spreading the word of Wild Paths beyond the realms of Norwich.
In an excited voice, Street tells me, “in terms of sponsors and collaborations, we’ve got Carhartt doing the official festival wristbands, which is huge, we’re in collaboration with Strangers providing the official coffee and we’ve launched a Wild Paths IPA.’
But music, coffee and beer are not the only features of the festival. Alongside the music Street tells me there will be live graffiti installations, here in the Shoe Factory, as well as our various panel conferences giving expertise. These conferences feature well known names across the industry, including the veteran music journalist and author Jon Robb as well as Radio 1 DJ Phil Taggart.
Street tells me “the purpose of these conferences [is] to offer an expert view on the Norwich music and creative scene and get it some exposure”.
Street adds, “we’ve had a fair bit of news coverage in order to spread the word of the festival, EDP [Eastern Daily Press] have featured us and the guys at Future Radio have been very supportive”.
Yet to Street’s disappointment he says BBC Introducing have kept quiet about it.
This festival has a peculiar style of admission for festival goers.
There are a variety of passes people can buy, from the main weekend pass to one dedicated to all of the fringe acts, as well as those that cover venues alone.
Again, Street tells me, “this was to highlight the eclectic side of the music festival, people can go to a venue they wouldnít have known of before and see an eclectic range of music.
“For example, here [at the Shoe Factory] on Saturday we’ve got the Magic Gang for fans of twangy guitar indie.
“While at Epic [Studios] we’ve got Franc Moody headlining, who are funk and soul, [and] Black Honey who are gloomy rock with Americana, so it’s about exposure to all these different genres”.
I turn my attention to local acts that are performing at the festival, and the state of Norwich as a music city.
The Wild Paths founder and director hopes the festival will bring a focus to Norwich and attracts people in.
He adds, “With the festival line up I want to keep a fine balance between local and national acts, keeping it more 60/40 in favour of the global acts”.
The state of Norwichís music circuit excites the Wild Paths founder.
“There is a lot of hype, just like in Bristol when I was with Coasts, it’s really exciting, especially with a lot of the UEA bands Wreck, Bag of Cans and Gladboy, who are all promising”.
Street has the younger audience at the heart of this festival and as he speaks of their cultural and social awareness he tells me we are not going to be using any bottles at the festival and instead serve all drinks in cans and not plastic.
He tells me, “the problem with green field sites is the rubbish issue afterwards
and the issue of single-use plastic ñ the recent mess left at Latitude wasnít pretty and so we hope to avoid that”.
For Ben Street, Wild Paths is his own creation.
But he fully understands that “people are a part of the festival”
He hopes “at least one of the acts can make you feel a part of it”.
Wild Paths festival will take place in venues across Norwich from the 18th to 20th October.
Tickets remain on sale at wildpaths.co.uk