Bringing the Beat
Back to Bradford

Abi Mitchell of Impressions Gallery wants your memories of Bradford Odeon – in all its guises

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The former Bradford Odeon building has been in the centre of the city for nearly 100 years. Opening in 1930 as the New Victoria, then the Gaumont from 1950, the building has been at the heart of cultural activity in Bradford, hosting dances, concerts, cinema screenings, charity events and bingo tournaments over the course of its history. After the closure of the Bradford Odeon cinema in 2000 the building’s future was uncertain. However a decade of sustained activism from the community saved it from demolition and in 2014 the not-for-profit Bradford Live organisation won the bid to redevelop the building.

Impressions Gallery is excited to be commissioned by Bradford Live to develop a project that will result in both a community-built archive and crowd-sourced exhibition showcasing the history of the historic building. The project is part of a programme of activity funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to highlight the history of one of Bradford’s most loved buildings and the people who used it.

Through an open call to the public, community outreach and research in local archives we are collating an extensive archive of professional and vernacular images, memorabilia and stories. Opening ahead of the new Bradford Live venue in summer 2022, Bringing the Beat Back to Bradford will be a unique exhibition, the gallery walls filled with personal accounts, photographs and recollections.

One of the many gigs at Bradford Odeon fondly remembered. Main photo: the Odeon in 1990. Photo: Ken Webster, courtesy of the archive of Mark Nicholson.

Community memories of the venue run deep, with almost a century of experiences housed within the building. From the historic concerts of the 1950s and 1960s, which include performances from the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Little Richard and Shirley Bassey, to sell-out first screenings of Star Wars in 1977 and Toy Story two decades later in 1996, almost everyone has a well worn memory linked to the building.

The story of the first Star Wars screening in December 1977 is the stuff of legend, the famous scene of the destruction of the death star embodied by the amazing projection work of Tony Cutts, reflecting light off a specially installed glitter ball in the auditorium to emphasise the spectacle of the shattering planet. The thousand points of light, like stars illuminating the darkness, are etched in the memory of those who were there.

Susan Sayer, via Facebook, recalls: “I remember queueing round the block for the first Star Wars film in 1977, the carpet in the foyer and up the grand staircase was deep red and seeing the film in a packed auditorium was such a wonderful experience, the opening of the film, in a galaxy far far away, was nothing like we had seen before at the cinema, [an] unforgettable experience.”

Seeing the Beatles performing is another collectively held memory. The Fab Four played at the venue many times. The atmosphere was entirely electric.

“Saw the Beatles there… hardly heard anything for the screams but I didn’t care… it was fantastic!,” wrote Anne Bailey on Facebook.

People across the region have many different memories of the venue. The exciting prospect of co-authoring this project alongside Bradfordians young and old is that we don’t know what stories will emerge. We have already found out about couples meeting on the dancefloor of the New Victoria, beginning relationships that have lasted the test of time. We know of students sneaking into concerts instead of going to night school, groups having band photos taken outside the iconic facade and people “hugging” the building to demonstrate their love for the venue during its uncertain years. And we are looking forward to finding out more over the next few months.

“I have vivid memories of coming out of films there as a kid, walking into the upstairs lounge area and collecting the postcards for the different films that were showing. I even got a big James and the Giant Peach poster!”, said Nathan Evans on Twitter.

The call-out launched last month and we are hoping that over the festive period local residents have a dig through their loft and look in the shoe boxes under the bed and find any concert tickets, cinema stubs and photos from their time in the building. In the new year we will be hosting “scan-athon” events where we will be supporting members of the public to professionally document their memorabilia to add to the archive, with the Bringing the Beat Back to Bradford exhibition being built from the individual memories.

If you have anything to share, or know someone who has visited the venue, please see our call-out for fll details on how to get involved. You can follow the project on social media via the hashtag #BringingTheBeatBackToBradford and find out more on our website.

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