Three weekends on the trot, loads of stuff therein
This was originally going to be a general catch-up post, but a theme went and decided to emerge. I know I’m aaaalways going on about the fact that tonnes of stuff (the good kind of stuff. Not the bad kind) happens in Birmingham all the time and that ‘cultural wasteland’ preconceptions are as wrong as wrong can be, but here’s a beautiful example – three consecutive weekends with really fun and interesting things to do in each (“A carnival of Babel, a jazzy funky fable”, as some other locals had it. Perhaps).
Saturday the 24th was the occasion on which I went (wiv me muvver) to experience a bit of this year’s Fierce Festival. Fierce has been going for a while, but the only bit of it I’d ever managed to catch prior to this was Ballet On The Buses last year. That was amazing and I was absolutely determined to see more than one thing this time around.
Our day started with The Divine Edgar (darknesscoffinsburials) at The Vaults (a restaurant in The Jewellery Quarter that more than lives up to its name – from the street you walk down stairs into darkness and a confusing layout. It’s very nice once you get the hang of it, though, albeit a’spensive). After eventually gathering our bearings and getting where we were meant to be, it turned out that Chr-Chr-Chr-Chr-Chris Uniiiiit was doing the door for ‘Edgar’, and so it was lovely to meet him at last. It’s difficult to describe the actual event without spoiling it (which I really don’t want to do in case it ends up happening again somewhere near you, dear reader, although there won’t exactly be an appropriate space for it to take place in on every street. The Vaults really was perfect in that respect), but it really was very genuinely atmospheric. Silly too, of course, but knowingly so in an endearing way. Like the Mr Poe who inspired it himself, even. Also you get a glass of sherry.
It was to the The Fete Encounter at Brindley place, after that. People had a whale of a time attempting to do Scottish country dancing and a lion wandered round bothering children and falling asleep on people’s shoulders. We tried to stay on the outskirts and not get involved until we had a better idea of what was going on, but I nevertheless found myself assailed by an excitable fella wanting me to contribute some steps to the dance he would be performing later.
I completely failed to realise that B1 Labyrinths involved riding bikes, in spite of the fact that the promotional blurb therelinked clearly states so. I’m clever like that. I can’t actually ride a bike and so that might have prompted problems, but (fortunately) I was nevertheless allowed to walk alongside the cycling massive. This is another one where I can’t really say a massive amount without fear of spoiling it all, but we were led around town and at various points encountered actors doing their bits. That was great (a fair few of them were strangely evocative for such little vignettes), but even more entertaining were the reactions from neutral spectators. In retrospect it seems obviously intentional that we (with our bicycles, trikes and Army Of Shiny hi-viz jackets) were meant to be part of the performance. Perhaps most amusing of all was when we found ourselves moving contraflow to the Pride march hurtling down New Street – the copper clearing the way ahead of the marchers was getting very agitated, but the performer woman leading us was quite spectacularly brazen in not moving to one side until she chose to (she did the same thing when crossing the road in front of a bus, later on. A bus).
Saturday the 31st of May was occasion for The Flyover Show – an Increase The Peace type event organised on the traffic island under Hockley flyover, by the jazzman Soweto Kinch (EDIT: Actually, no, that’s more dismissive that I want to be. To elaborate: the idea behind it lay more in the fact that Hockley was once known as an artistic and cultured area, but nowadays you only ever seem to hear it mentioned in connection with people being shanked. The Flyover Show, I gather, was at least partly to demonstrate that there is potential in the area beyond the negativity; a symbol of this was picking a venue that many would formerly have said to be quite unpleasant but actually turned out to be fantastic. More on that in a minute). The man himself gave an interview to CIB in which he spoke of some of the trials and tribulations involved in getting the thing actually happening, and it’s well worth a listen.
It ran all afternoon and into the evening, but I got there just before 2pm to find very, very few people actually in attendance. A jazz-theatre sort of thing was going on (the posters on the flyover pillars suggested that it was by ‘Youth Group’. That narrowed it down, obviously) and I was immediately impressed with flyover as avenue – it looked fantastic for anything, and for an ‘urban’ (Sorry. See above interview link) event in particular. Sadly, I was far less impressed with the fact that I could barely hear what the performers were saying over the cars screeching around the outsides of the island and wooshing overhead. I gave up after a bit, and decided to come back later when (hopefully) the PA system would have been turned up a bit for the more music-centric portions of the day.
Blessedly, it was. I arrived back at about just gone six, and found Black Voices onstage. Such of their set as I heard was gorgeous – beautiful acapella singing, with a really endearing Bob Marley medley. Lovely stuff.
The next few turns involved artists doing very short sets of a song or two (“public appearances”, p’raps? Never keen on that. I know that doing it like this means that you can get more turns on, but as a punter I prefer proper-length sets) with the same band backing them. This did have the slightly unfortunate effect of making all of their backing sound pretty similar-ish. It actually did work to a pretty strong extent and didn’t turn out to be as much of a problem as it might have done, but it was certainly the case. Kosyne and Sonny Jim were entertaining for as long as they were briefly on, with plenty of life about them and what seemed to be some pretty funny lyrics at times, but I headed along to the off-license over the road to get a few drinkies straight after they’d finished and so missed the next artist or two. I returned in time for Tor, who was an absolutely fantastic blur of speed-rapping energy. It’d be nice to see a set long enough to get a proper idea of her one day. Zena Edwards was next with her jazz ‘n’ poetry styles. I liked various bits of her lyrics but musically it did get a bit ‘jazz odyssey’ at times (a bizarre thing to say about a jazz act, but I’m sure you get my meaning). The tracks on HerSpace are more interesting, though.
A very quick break (it couldn’t even have been ten minutes. Absolutely everything was rat-a-tat-tat one-thing-after-the-next at this) followed. It was at this point that it dawned on me – take what I was doing out of context and you’re left with the fact that I was drinking cans of Special Brew while sitting on an embankment under an A-road flyover. At last, my true station in life.
Gabbidon was next for about three or four songs and is always a pleasure. Marley-esque poppy reggae, as we know, with Steel Pulse’s “Handsworth Revolution” getting a really good reception. Another (very) short break followed before it was time for the main man himself, Soweto Kinch. He was joined for a few songs by Eska Mtungwazi, although I’m not sure whether they were doing her songs or his or what. There was some more lengthy solo-ing but I was even beginning to enjoy that a little bit after a while (the Special Brew was kicking in, obviously). The bit of the day a lot of people had obviously been waiting for then followed to finish things off, with short sets by grime geezer Bashy (“Black Boys” got the biggest reception of the day, even more than “Handsworth Revolution”) and Ty (who I was most keen to see out of the whole line-up. Yet again it would’ve been nicer with a sensible-length set, but I suppose you can’t complain for free).
It was a really fun event, all in all; any fears anyone might have had about trouble or anything like that proved unfounded, and everyone present just revelled in the music and good vibes. More of these, please.
Sunday the 8th saw me in Birmingham, this time again with Mother Dearest. Or it did eventually, at least. London-Midland seemed to be having a bit of difficulty organising the coaches to replace the trains called off for line repairs. I found it funny at the time, although I am glad I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere.
We first went to have a look at The Secret Garden, near The Custard Factory. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t what I was or wasn’t expecting. Or something. Good, though. It was once a bit of overgrown waste ground with a shed and abandoned shipping containers on, until Beyond Closed Doors were given the chance to reclaim it for the purposes of their art installations. I particularly liked the little things to discover in the cupboards inside the shed, and the ingenious small model of the whole site in one of the containers.
The thought occurs (literally only just now as I’m typing this) that although ‘finding potential in things and places where it would not usually be noticed’ is far from a rare theme in art, it seems to be particularly common in Birmingham art. The Secret Garden is Hockley Flyover is Modified Toy Orchestra is… who else? There seem to be parallels, at the very least. There’s a bigger article in this, although I suspect someone may already have written it.
We had a bit of a look at the Custard Factory market next (my thoughts are the same as last year – it’s great, but it really would be so much better with more. It’s hard to imagine anyone being tempted to go significantly out of their way for it at present, as lovely as it is) before heading back city-centre-wards to have a quick look at some of the Climate Change Festival stuff lying around. I don’t understand what the big pylon was trying to tell me, but some of the local fauna seemed to appreciate the cornfield around the outside of it. I liked the video on the town hall big screen about the trees being planted in Brum city centre in the 70s, though. It had some very jolly music.
To Ikon gallery to finish. I really don’t go to see enough art in galleries, which is something I may have to rectify. Lutz and Guggisberg’s “Impressions From The Interior” was the main exhibition, and while I’m not sure I found a lot of meaning in any of it (I am thick, though) I did enjoy a fair few bits. I liked ‘Globe’ (not mentioned in the PDF notes you can get from that link, but a wooden ball made of lots of really cute little carved animals), the ‘Tonies’ (so sweet! They looked like Morph), and ‘Population’ (200 abstractly rendered birds created from seared wood. Eerie. I made sure to keep quiet while walking through).
Three consecutive weekends, anyway, with loads of fun things to do. A sterling testament to Out And About In Birmingham-ness.