Stoke-on-Trent is a city that is in a strange position. While it has the bulk of a large city, it deals with a lot of the problems of small towns, such as youth crime, lack of investment and small cultural growth.
Despite this, there are a lot of people within the city who strive to bring better things to the area. These people have been championed this summer by the launch of a brand new annual festival based in the city; the Axis festival.
Axis has been gradually announced over the past months and was soon pinned down as being hosted on the 4th to 6th of May, with an impressive line-up. Big name bands came to the city, including Sandi Thom, Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, The Guillemots, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and more.
Less known acts like Sonic Boom Six, the sensational Manchester punk band, The Black Apples, Tim Westwood and more have performed in the city. Local acts like Gordon Hendricks who is an acclaimed Elvis tribute artist and now international rock band Headrush have played their part.
Axis has not just brought music - comedy from the likes of Red Dwarf's Norman Lovett and workshops with leading UK urban music producer Richard 'Sticky' Forbes have added flavour to the proceedings. Axis ran a whole day of such workshops from dance, to photography, to music and arts. There were even after show parties at night with live bands and acts like the local Silhouette Burlesque.
"The festival has been a resounding success," said Axis manager Sara Austin.
"Literally thousands of people came and enjoyed the weekend. We managed to network with scores of volunteers, businesses, youth groups, arts groups, local authority... the list goes on. We just want to make it bigger and better...involve more people and keep providing quality platforms for local talent."
Sara, who has worked with music all her life and managed tours across Europe and the US, certainly succeeded in bringing people to the city, filling the headline performances. The opening night with Sandi Thom was a hit with both her fans and those who came to see what the fuss was about, leaving a room full of excited and thoroughly entertained people.
A sense of something that is good for the community is hard to miss, a sentiment shared by a lot of local businesses who have supported Axis and the Love Music Hate Racism charity group.
Axis was started because Sara, like many local people, was disillusioned by the lack of activity in the area.
"I got curious as to why Stoke didn't offer more, so I started to really have a look around at what arts and cultural activities there were. What I found was that there was a fair bit going on which was really good, although not nearly enough. I just wanted to add my bit and help champion the good stuff that was already happening."
Stoke-on-Trent has a poor reputation with the rest of the UK for being a small minded place; the city is built on an industry that left the area long ago, and organisations like the BNP have been gaining strength. Axis made a step towards changing that:
"We have our issues in Stoke with extremist organisations whose fundamental message is one of hate and division. LMHR are a national charity who engage with name artists to use music to join people together. We really need that message getting across in certain parts of the City. Axis Festival is one of many groups which is about promoting a positive image to the nation at large, securing better investment and ultimately improving lives."
Under the radar
The festival was a short lived but exciting event that passed under the radar of many news and promotion organisations, but hopefully the snowball will start to grow. A lot of talent and fun came to Stoke-on-Trent over the weekend and that can never be a bad thing for any city.
"I guess the way the Festival developed and how I'd like to see it progress is to provide a platform for all those in the area to have their work seen and at the same time bring some international names to the city to help celebrate Stoke on Trent. The main thing is that we all have fun!"
As you can see, Sara is enthusiastic about the festival and the same response has come from all corners. The only criticisms are that it needs to be bigger and louder; but considering the impact of this year, that sounds like an easy goal.
A modern, thriving city
The Axis website is http://www.axisfestival.co.uk and Sara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hopefully, events like this will turn Stoke into a modern, thriving city and put a smile on everyone's face, at least once a year.
"Stoke is a great place and could potentially be one of the most beautiful cities in the country if the regeneration money is spent right. However, it will then be up to the people of the city to take ownership of the area and help use the new facilities provided.
"That's where arts and culture will come into their own, like the way it's developed in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Birmingham, Manchester etc. We could have everything those cities have got if we collectively decide we want them. Isn't that exciting?!"