New season: Norwich Arts Centre

Trevor Heaton Busy, busy, busy. It’s always like that at Norwich Art Centre, and the spring season will be no exception. TREVOR HEATON reports.

Trevor Heaton

One of East Anglia's liveliest venues is on the ball with another packed season in prospect.

Norwich Arts Centre, based in the former St Swithin's Church off St Benedict's, has a formidable reputation for a. quality and b. quantity when it comes to events.

The cornerstone of every programme is music, and the venue's intimacy makes it a great place to see bands. Add to this the venue's almost uncanny knack for picking the top names of tomorrow (eg recently booking Gabrielle Cilmi before she hit the big time) make it “one to watch”.

And as for trampling over genres barriers, well, there can't be too many venues which run the gamut from hip hop to folk, and rock to gipsy jazz.

Indie talent lined up includes the Next Big Thing IV winners the Kabeedies on December 12, and all-girl noiseniks Violet Violet on December 20. Listen out, too, for the offbeat experimentation of Balaclava Kid & Dad on January 12, up-and-coming the Coast (February 6), Emmy the Great (February 9) and the Wild Beasts (February 21).

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Making its centre debut is widely-respected hip hop outfit Ugly Duckling on January 19. There's a strong line-up too on the world music side, including gipsy super-trio Koshka from Russia (December 15), Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko - who travelled to Africa to seek out the roots of the banjo and the idiosyncrasies that never made it to America - on January 27, Anglo-Egyptian singer Natacha Atlas and the Mazeeka Ensemble fusing electronic beats with North African and Arabic music on February 2, and stunning flamenco jazz guitar virtuosity with Eduardo Niebla on February 26.

On January 14 it's the genre-straddling Marina Florance band, whose music includes elements of folk, country, acoustic and blues. Experimental early music group Horses Brawl play two days later, followed on January 30 by the stunning vocals of Cara Dillon, one of a number of young traditional artists now emerging on to the mainstream. Lively folk band Uiscedwr play the venue on February 5, while on February 17 it's Beoga (Irish word for “lively”), a five-piece traditional band based in County Antrim.

Other highlights include one of the most talked-about new acts on the folk scene, Breabach (March 18) who bring their innovative celtic style, blending double bagpipes, whistle, fiddle, song and Scottish stepdance. And BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards 2007 winner Ruth Notman is in concert on March 26.

Or if that's not your style, how about blues (Kent Duchaine, January 15; Martin Harley Band, March 5, and Oli Brown Band, March 13), country (Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, March 17), jazz (Abram Wilson and the Delta Blues Trio, December 11; King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, January 9; Sarah Gillespie, February 10; Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, March 16; and Philip Clouts Quartet, March 30). And that's only some of it.

It's a great place, too, for comedy. First past the post is the Salt Box Comedy Club, Norwich's alternative stand-up comedy night, which returns for 2009 making its debut at the Norwich Arts Centre on February 3.

Swift on their heels the next evening NAC presents Perrier Best Newcomer Award nominee Dan Antopolski, mostly known for his surreal stand-up, who will be sharing the bill with fellow Brit Isy Suttie.

Arts Centre favourite Josie Long brings her third national tour All of the Planet's Wonders (Shown in Detail) on February 24. Perrier Award Nominee Alex Horne is on a twisted tour of Britain, Bahrain, Birdworld and Bill Oddie on March 10 as he presents his dramatically true and hilariously funny findings following an adventure that was motivated by needing to understand why his birdwatching dad took to twitching.

To top it all off, fellow Perrier nominee Miles Jupp performs his new show Drifting on March 24 and internationally renowned stand-up comedian Shazia Mirza returns to the NAC with her new show on March 4.

Performance and live literature is represented too. On December 18, The Broken Piano Show returns with its annual Yuletide special featuring a candlelit cabaret of music, comedy and poetry hosted by Latitude and Glastonbury poet Yanny Mac.

The Monday Night Alternative is back for its regular slot on January 26, February 23 and March 23 with headliners including Jude Simpson, who combines observational comedy with witty wordplay, rap and song, Chris Hicks, who writes, performs and tours with Aisle 16 and Salena Godden, who has performed regularly on Radios 3 and 4 and with the likes of Coldcut, Alabama 3 and Simple Kid.

This programme is completed by an eclectic eight- hour mini-festival that celebrates the sheer abundance of talent in our local music and arts community Soapbox on January 31.

Visual arts are well-represented by a new open submissions exhibition, Mobile, which opens on January 9 and which will explore informal documentary photography. The exhibition celebrates the variety of images that can be captured on a mobile phone where technique and image quality are discarded in favour of subject matter.

In conjunction with Mobile is Shoestring Shorts, on January 13 at 8pm - a night exploring unconventional and inexpensive methods of making video, using mobile phone cameras, stills cameras, webcams and open source software.

For those interested in submitting work, the deadline for receipt of films is Monday January 5 and films should be emailed to shorts@norwichartscentre.co.uk (or send a link to the YouTube address).

The exhibitions programme for this season is completed by A Complete History of Darwinian Theory through the Art of Book Covers, a photographic exhibition that celebrates the work of artists and illustrators in illuminating books and an analysis of the use of art in backing up the major theoretical movements in evolutionary thinking.

This exhibition is timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859 and takes place from Thursday February 12 to Saturday March 21.

All exhibitions, unless otherwise stated, are open Mondays to Saturdays, 10am-7pm; free entry

Norwich Arts Centre also plays host to a number of creative and digital courses ranging from website design to digital photography to traditional black and white darkroom courses.

t 01603 660352 box office; www.norwichartscentre.co.uk; www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk