Anyone who grew up in Bradford in the 1970s and 80s will be able to tell you about a piece of graffiti on All Saints Road which read ‘It’s a mean old scene’.
The words appeared sometime in the late 60s – who wrote them and why remains a mystery, but for many they embodied the city’s individuality and radical spirit.
That street art heritage is now being revisited with a number of bold new commissions through a collaboration between Bradford 2025 UK City of Culture bid, Bradford BID and Bradford Council.
The artworks will be popping up around the district over the course of the spring and summer and last month saw the installation of a series of four original portraits by street artist STEWY who specialises in creating life-size stencils of cultural icons.
They portray Ces Podd, the first Black footballer to play for Bradford City who made a record 565 appearances for the club, Roots Record Shop owner and reggae musician and DJ ‘Barry Roots’, ‘Polish Anna’, a Polish immigrant who was a much-loved figure around the Bradford markets from the 1960s to the 1980s and Keighley-born Captain Sir Tom Moore the Second World War veteran known for his heroic fundraising efforts for the NHS during the first UK lockdown.
“In the run-up to the UK City of Culture bid, we want to showcase Bradford’s exciting cultural offer and as people start going back into the city centre, we thought that seeing art in the public realm would be a really hopeful thing to do,” says May McQuade, programme coordinator at Bradford 2025.
“We felt that the artworks should be distinctively Bradford and should start conversations –that is how these four characters came into play.”
There were discussions amongst members of the Bid team and with partner organisations – Keighley Council put forward some funding for the Captain Sir Tom Moore piece – and also speaking to traders and customers at John Street markets.
“We did a lot of research,” says McQuade. “And when we told people which characters were going to be featured in the artworks, everyone was really pleased. It is really important that we put local people at the heart of everything we are planning.”
The response so far has been hugely positive. “I was there when STEWY was spraying the stencil for Barry Roots and people were walking past and saying ‘Ah, it’s Barry!’,” says McQuade. “It was so heart-warming, he is such a well-loved local figure.”
Among the upcoming street art projects are the UK’s second longest piece of artwork, on Darley Street created by local artist Xanthe Bonsall in collaboration with Bradford Markets and a young people’s mural project. The call-out invited 11-18 year-olds to come up with a design for a mural that will ‘spark joy or be a sign of hope’. That positive, hopeful attitude pervades the whole of the 2025 bid – as it should, Bradford has so much to offer culturally, creatively and otherwise – and McQuade is optimistic about the city’s chances of winning.
“We are a unique and distinct city with a huge amount of potential. Having pride in who we are and seeing these figures and their stories celebrated on our streets feeds into our strong sense of identity. It is clear that Bradford has the confidence to win, what’s important now is that we all unite in a spirit of hope.”