Call me Russ L

Black Country born and bred, and yet still I say “Hurrah for Birmingham”

Posted in Modern Living, Music, Stage by Russ L on 23 September, 2006

Artsfest is an annual event organised by Birmingham City Council, in which hundreds of performances take place across the city centre and Digbeth (or – *spit* – ‘Eastside,’ as we’re meant to call it now) for free. Free stuff? I’m on it.

‘Twas the Saturday, the ninth of September. After eventually locating me muvver (it was her birthday, y’know), the first thing we caught a glimpse of was a kiddies’ dance exhibition in Victoria square, happening thanks to the ‘Spark’ youth scheme. They weren’t in the least bit good, but I don’t think that really matters. I approve of things like this (when you consider all of the less positive things the little bleeders could be getting up to in their spare time…), but more in principle than practice – we didn’t watch very much of it.

We headed off slightly to The Waterhall gallery to watch a condensed version of the mystery plays from medieval times (courtesy of the Solo Plus Theatre company), ranging roughly between Christ forgiving the adulteress and The Resurrection. It was interesting, but even more so surreal – not only seeing this sort of thing take place in the middle of the floor in an art gallery, but also the fact that they had a woman standing off to one side translating it all into sign language. I apologise to anyone who got/needed the benefit of that service, but dear me. It’s not something you see every day. I have also come to the conclusion that it was all a big misunderstanding when the mystery plays were suppressed in the sixteenth century – they actually meant to ban the ignorant people who, when you’re watching something, brazenly walk up and stand directly in front of you to get a better view without the least consideration for anyone else.

Back over to the Victoria Square stage in time for The Void, a youngpersons funk/jazz band put on by the abovementioned Sparks and formed with the help of Sound It Out. They weren’t as bad as you half-expect this sort of venture to be, either – amazing musicianship (if you like that sort of thing), and with a gently grooving air. Sound and stage-time problems assailed them but I nodded my head.

Enough Right-Onnery. Mothertrucker were next on this stage, and it all went far better than you would imagine Mo’Tro playing in a public square possibly could. Sound troubles were again writ large (there were a few, but the biggest was undoubtedly the fact that the drums sounded like upturned saucepans and Tupperware tubs being tapped rather than actual drums), but the band’s larger-than-life power shone through. Various random people passing by seemed to stop for a bit of a further listen, and a mad lady decided to do a bit of hippy-ish/bangra style dancing (the things people will do when there’s a video camera in an obvious position…). Bosting. I have since found out that (after they’d finished) Birmingham Central Library complained about the volume rattling their windows, and every other band on that stage for the rest of the day had to make do with quieter levels. Hurr hurr hurr.

Over to the Rep we headed, for a bit of theatre. The Big Brum Theatre In Education Company were conducting an open rehearsal of a scene from ’The Balancing Act’, by Edward Bond. It’s really interesting to see how it all comes together, and being able to canvas opinions from the public on the spot was a useful thing for the director and players to be able to do too (even if some punters are, as usual, appallingly literal-minded). I want to see the whole play now, though.

Next we had Marcus Eyre Productions presenting ‘The Next Drink,’ a piss-poor anti-excessive-drinking play. The most notable thing was that the chap who played Jesus in the mystery play earlier was our protagonist here. Other than that we had comedy Irish and Brummie accents, and simple morality for the yoot dem that won’t encourage anyone to think twice about anything. Really, really cack-handed.

The next one was fortunately a lot better. The Treefrog Theatre Company gave us ‘Don’t Pick Sport,’ a two-hander centring around a couple playing a quiz machine in a pub. It was a nice and warmly humorous look at peoples’ funny little ways and I liked it a lot.

Nipping around the corner to The Flapper, some of the authors from Tindal Street Press were giving readings. Alan Beard has a monotone voice that left me unable to concentrate on/follow the jist of his reading (probably more my fault than his, but that’s not really important). Kavita Bhanot’s fragment of her story was interesting, using the idea of flexible morality in a setting you wouldn’t expect to find it. Jackie Gay’s story, finally, was amazing. Written from the perspective of a young girl whose sister was suffering from cancer, it was the sort of thing that could easily (in less skilled hands) have been quite cheesy and sentimental, but was actually very affecting. I would definitely like to read more of her work.

Hopping over to the CBSO centre we saw TNI, an R’n’B duo. Typically styled stuff, but with some good beats behind them and the obligatory strong voices. They finished with a really nice acapella version of The Lord’s Prayer, too.

We ambled over to the de facto main stage in Centenary Square for the first time after this, finding an unbelievably annoying compere (was he a local radio DJ or similar? He had that sort of air about him) going on loudly and at length about nothing in particular. Do they really believe that people will get bored and wander off if there’s a minute or two in which they’re not bombarded by sound and fury signifying nothing? Oh well. Fola were the next act, and having read ‘Irish Folk’ in the programme I was well up for a bit of raucous too-ra-loo-ra-li. They (sadly) weren’t that type of thing, though, playing songs at the more gentle and melodic end of it all. Pleasantly melodic, though, with a couple of riverdance types joining them for the last song.

Did I say dance, there? The Birmingham Royal Ballet were next. I’m not one for ‘getting’ dance, particularly, but I really enjoyed the excerpts we saw here. There were movements from the Four Seasons, Firebird and The Nutcracker, and three Sinatra songs. I remember liking their interpretation of “One More For My Baby” particularly. The little girl in the audience near us who was adding her own dances was sweet, too.

That was the end of the Artsfest portion of the day for us, as we headed off to Café Soya after that (more on which in a future post). The following day (Sunday the tenth) I popped down for a bit on the afternoon, alone this time. I stuck my head into The Stage hoping to see a bit of Carvalho’s set, but obviously the running order had gone all to cock as I found myself watching Morning View – ordinary poppy rock stuff that I didn’t find the least bit interesting.

After that I was over to the Centenary Square stage quickstyle, not wanting to miss any of The Destroyers. They didn’t have a ranting poet with them as they did for their set at the Moseley Folk Festival the previous week, but their gypsy/Balkan/East European mad energetic danceable traditional thing is just as easy to apply a string of adjectives too without. Fantastic stuff, perhaps even more fun over the bigger spaces this time (then again, I can’t wait for a chance to see them in a proper venue…).

Over to The Flapper then to see my last performance of the weekend, in the form of Laurence Inman, who’s “How To Be A Brummie In Ten Painful Lessons” had amused me no end at the previous year’s Artsfest. The offering this year was loosely based around his own younger days and (while still very funny) was a bit disappointing in comparison. Good, but not as good, and it was a shame that he used some of the same poems. Also, his remarks about Yam-yams hurt. I felt like having a little cry afterwards. I hope he’s proud of himself.

A massively, massively enjoyable weekend overall, and all free. Next year it’s apparently the tenth anniversary of Artsfest, so I can barely wait for that.

~ Russ L, reflecting upon the fact that in less than two months Birmingham had Supersonic, Moseley Folk and Artsfest, and yet some people still try to say nothing ever happens in the city. Madness.


5 Responses

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  1. Ben said, on 23 September, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Re: that final sentiment – well said. Because of the Artsfest write-ups here and on Pete Ashton’s site, and because of the Supersonic reviews that you and Dead Kenny wrote, I’m gutted I missed out on both. Two quality events, by the sounds of it.

    Incidentally, have you got your A-Z CDs yet? There’s a post on The Art Of Noise where you can leave comments about it. ‘Queen Bee’ has proved quite a hit, with me as well as others…

  2. Chris C said, on 23 September, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    the idea of Mothertrucker playing in a public square is one that appeals to me. I can barely imagine it but bet it was fun.

  3. James said, on 25 September, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    Artsfest was brilliant. That woman was brilliant!! Ha ha. Great to play to such varied people!

  4. Laurence Inman said, on 28 October, 2006 at 12:00 am

    Russell, I’m sorry. There will be no more gags aimed at Black Country people. As for the material – I have a horror of people hearing everything more than once. (I’m sure someone in the audience was speaking along with me last year. ) I promise I’ll be better prepared next year.

  5. Russ L said, on 28 October, 2006 at 8:34 am

    That won’t bring back the tears I shed. That won’t heal the pain I felt. The agony I endured. You’re a beast pretending to be a man, Inman.

    I’ll still come to your future thingies, but I’ll scowl a lot. And ostentatiously hold a newspaper under my arm.


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