Favourite Things: Where music, literature and the outdoors meet in Sheffield

Nat Johnson is a Sheffield-based singer-songwriter, who is taking part in a project at Off The Shelf linked to the work of the Bronte sisters. She has written a Favourite Things column for the Telegraph and one of her choices is Endcliffe Park.
Nat Johnson is a Sheffield-based singer-songwriter, who is taking part in a project at Off The Shelf linked to the work of the Bronte sisters. She has written a Favourite Things column for the Telegraph and one of her choices is Endcliffe Park.

Since moving to Sheffield in 2000, singer-songwriter Nat Johnson has released five albums – two with her first band Monkey Swallows the Universe, two as Nat Johnson and the Figureheads, and a solo album Neighbour of the Year.

Nat’s work has earned her national acclaim, songwriting commissions and several live sessions for BBC 6 Music.

Sheffield Millennium Gallery

Sheffield Millennium Gallery

Most recently, Nat has been working on a project for this year’s Off the Shelf festival. She has written a musical triptych – three songs about the Brontë sisters called The Liberty System – as part of celebrations for the bicentenary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë.

She will be performing and discussing her work at New Responses to the Brontës at the Upper Chapel on Friday, October 14. Nat, 36, lives in Walkley with her husband and no dogs. Yet.

Our Parks and Walks

We have some wonderful parks, with special mentions for Rivelin Valley and its sparkling water, and Crookes Valley with its tranquil lake and pretty spring blossoms.

My favourite is Endcliffe Park, with the weeping beech tree at the entrance, hot chocolate and teacakes in the café, the quiet copse and the cheerful company of the Porter Brook.

I love being able to walk nearly everywhere I want to go, and as Sheffield isn’t really built up there’s lots of sky to enjoy. I get a lot of musical inspiration while I’m walking around Sheffield.

I love to roam further afield too; to Padley Gorge, the reservoirs, Chatsworth and Longshaw.

Our Beverages

All that wandering can be thirsty work, but fine liquids flow freely in our fair city. From a lovely cup of Birdhouse Tea to one of a billion local beers, I am never far away from something delicious to drink.

As the writer Jerome K Jerome said: ‘Thirst is a dangerous thing’.

The Arts Tower

This stands as a symbol of the city for me and also reminds me of my time at the University of Sheffield from 2000 to 2003. The listed building and its weird paternoster lift turn 50 this year.

I’m really concerned about the plans to build a 16-storey block of student flats next to it. I think it’s a terrible idea and I hope lots of people object.

You’ll soon be able to spot some of my lyrics next to the Arts Tower when it rains, thanks to Off the Shelf and Festival of the Mind with their Rainworks project.

Our Historic buildings

The Arts Tower is more ‘modern’ than the buildings I’m usually drawn to – I like the grand old classical types like Cutlers’ Hall, with its collection of bizarre things including the world’s largest butter knife, a giant turtle shell and some questionable elephants. City Hall, the Lyceum and Firth Court are all high on my list.

We also have some beautiful churches, including the Upper Chapel where I’ll be on the 14th – a film to accompany my song about Emily Brontë will also be projected on to the outside of the building.

Our Festivals

As well as the mammoth that is Tramlines, there’s all the small and beautiful festivals that cater to our diverse and ravenous cultural appetites. Festivals like Off the Shelf, Sensoria, Festival of the Mind, the university’s Festival of Arts and Humanities and the Festival of Debate bring great guests and events to the city.

There’s also lots of fun mini-fests that pop up throughout the year, like the Classical Weekend and Celluloid Screams at the Showroom.

Kojo & Lee

I used to dread having to get my hair cut; I’ve always found it to be a very uncomfortable experience. But Nikki-Lee Hampton’s beautifully arranged salon – away from rows of mirrors and passing spectators – is a calming and soothing place.

I leave feeling like I’ve been hugged as well as groomed. Best hairdresser ever.

Our Independent

and Creative Spirit

This is probably the main thing that has kept me in Sheffield for the last 16 years. We do stuff. We make stuff. We get on with it. We don’t need anyone else to tell us how to do things.

Just look at our huge artistic community. Art and music is built into our routes – I love passing Faunagraphic’s street art, taking a shortcut through the Millennium Gallery, or noticing another small gallery, record shop or DIY venue appearing in a once neglected building.

I don’t think I would be the person I am if I hadn’t come to Sheffield and absorbed some of that spirit.

I know lots of people who are doing what they really want to do – that’s possible here.