When one of Nottingham’s best known characters died in 2004, the local media jumped on the bandwagon to pay predictable tributes to him. But Frank Robinson – also known as Xylophone Man – wasn’t a predictable bloke. So perhaps it was fitting that his final – and possibly only – interview wasn’t done by one of the predictable outlets.
In 2004, Left Lion was a relative newcomer to Nottingham’s media landscape. To my knowledge, neither the Nottingham Post, the BBC, ITV or one of the then four local commercial radio stations had ever bothered talking to Frank. It was a brilliant insight.
Roll forward to today, and Left Lion has just marked its tenth anniversary. Starting up a free sheet mixing listings with entertainment interviews could have been done by anyone. But Left Lion’s founders added something else, that frankly couldn’t be found anywhere else.
Apologies for the big photo, but this probably demonstrates more than anything just why Left Lion is different. The Nottingham Underground was the culmination of years of hard work by one of the magazine’s key people, Al Needham. Not only does he live and breathe Nottingham, he can teach you how to speak it. Just scan your eyes over that photo and read out loud some of the place names. It took me some time to identify the Nottingham Contemporary. And if you needed any further proof, it’s demonstrated in the title of this blog.
Of course, as easy as it is to praise the magazine, it’s not without its critics. One former senior journalist at the Nottingham Post once berated me for daring to invite Al onto the radio to talk about the state of the local newspaper industry. “Call that a PROPER paper?” is a polite interpretation of what he shouted at me in a pub. For the record, the Post’s own press office – an outsourced agency that wasn’t even part of the former owners the Northcliffe Group – had continually refused my requests for an interview.
And perhaps it’s that lack of corporate stonewalling which makes Left Lion the perfect place for the next young man (or woman) who wants to get into the industry.
The magazine is currently recruiting for two apprenticeships – one in sales, the other in editorial. Exactly the kind of free thinking that other media outlets might do well to adapt.
Not many free publications can survive for a decade and more – especially during an era which saw one of the biggest advertising recessions for a generation. Much of Left Lion’s success and survival has been down to goodwill and a love of the product. Of course, that might not always pay the bills and nothing lasts forever. But Al’s “leaving speech” sums up the sentiment.