Monthly Archives: March 2012
With the wonderful weather this weekend, it seemed a shame to stay indoors and contemplate the prospect of an Easter holiday filled with exam stress. Thinking that one day off couldn’t possibly hurt, I headed into the city to a sun-glazed Brindley Place for this month’s edition of Birmingham Book Festival’s Tell me on a Sunday. Storytellers and listeners alike were welcomed into the bright, airy cafe of the IKON Gallery to cluster round small tables complete with tea-lights and orange flowers, all enjoying a late lunch or afternoon tipple. This month’s story theme was ‘Hope and Glory’.
Cat Weatherill’s spirited introduction captured the room as the lighting dimmed to create an intriguingly intimate atmosphere. Beginning with her own story, Cat told of the money troubles she faced during the early years of her marriage and how she was inspired to apply for the TV game show Wheel of Fortune. In a captivating telling, Cat relived the suspense, excitement and enthralling hope that the chance of winning the show’s cash prize gave her. Even through to the final moments she kept the audience in the dark, not revealing til the last moment that she was to succeed in winning. Cat held the room in complete focus throughout her story, displaying the power of hope and how that hope transpired to the glory of her much needed victory.
Next to the stage was Gavin Young to tell of the racial inequality he witnessed as a child in his native South Africa. Without pretence, he described the harrowing nature of segregation, outlining in small memories how the prejudices faced by black people entered his consciousness. Movingly, he remembered the confusion he felt by the divisions society insisted on creating between him and his childhood friend. Finally, he gave an impression of the changes that have taken place since his youth, outlining a vision of hope brought about by changing opinions and a gradual regression of racial prejudice.
In a distinct contrast of subject matter, a lady stepped up to the stage to share the hope she experienced through realising her identity as a mother. In a moving, yet somewhat graphic description of events surrounding her daughter’s birth. Though sometimes being in danger of isolating some younger members of the audience, she managed to lighten her story with comedy and bold similies to keep the room on her side. Another lady told of her escape to Europe with friends during a rough patch in her marriage, reliving the freedom that she felt in her youth with humorous tales of drinking, flirting and running off without the group. This was introduced as an attempt to ‘experiment with reality’, a claim that was soon brought to life through the description of a talking fox with an aristocratic English accent deep in the French countryside. However, this telling was certainly set to continue for far more than the prescribed seven minutes, so with regret, the story was left ‘to be continued’ in next month’s session.
Following this was Natalie Cook, who seemed to bring light to the room in her bright red dress and a jauntily placed flower in her hair, telling of the hope brought to her by a particular moment from her past. She described being on a long car journey with her partner. When a certain song on the radio reminded him of an emotionally significant childhood memory, Natalie recounted the connection she felt with him, encountering the rare case of knowing that another person understands the world the way you do. Her story invoked the importance of memory and the clarity that certain moments can hold; even if they are from a distant past or an unfamiliar life, they can still be held as a precious source of hope.
Finally came a story from local writer and musician Richard Stokes, who with fantastic energy and charm told of his time working in a record shop in London. Through a combination of disenchantment with his job and mild frustration with his boss, he found himself one day ordering nine hundred and ninety-nine copies of blues singer Albert E. King’s Greatest Hits out of spite. This was, understandably, to the great rage of his boss, but equal amounts of amusement to Stokes’s Sunday audience; a truly engaging, fantastic telling.
As acknowledged by some of the storytellers, Tell Me on a Sunday is certainly gathering a regular following, with a growing audience returning to the event each month. The chance to experience performance storytelling of this standard, and in such a perfectly welcoming venue, is indisputably rare. These are stories that will make you think, make you feel and challenge your perspectives, all whilst making you laugh. This event is a real Birmingham gem.
Words and photography by Anna Lumsden
Salon des Refusés is a culmination of those short films that were forgotten and those anomalies which simply didn’t suit any other slot. Curators Chloë Roddick and Kristy Dootson collated eight short films hand-picked amongst five hundred which didn’t make the cut to be screened at some of the major international film festivals. Rather than simply discarding these rejects, for the reason that they don’t seem to ‘fit in’ with the rest, the event showcased the best of them to the public in the comfort of a cosy darkened room adorned with an array of furniture ranging from deck chairs to sofas.
The first film, Uncle Fran by Mike Forshaw brought the audience to the character of Fran, a fifty-something alcoholic. The film follows Fran on the day of his mother’s funeral, and watches his failed attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter and grandchildren, of whom he doesn’t even know the names. Fran makes an effort to fix his wrong doings as he engages with his grandchildren for the first time. The scene progresses and the speed increases as we watch him interact, giggling and playing spinning the children around. However, it all ends very abruptly as he swirls and knocks a glass of red wine off a nearby table, resulting in a smash and splash alarming the rest of the crowd in the pub. The granddaughter of no older than six or seven bursts into tears and Fran’s moment of joy turns suddenly sour. The film explores the themes of isolation and emasculation and alienation, and the crippling effect it has on this one man.
Moving away from Uncle Fran and a bleak area near Liverpool, the next film Distant Thunder, by Venetia Taylor, was set in a beautiful Australian suburban area following the life of well-to-do Pam, a middle aged divorceé who enjoys cheese and a little too much wine. Her former husband Richard arrives at her luxury apartment and Pam’s wry humour and her clearly forced nonchalance result in a comic effect, especially when she jovially tells Richard ‘you’ll be dead soon’. Their meeting is interrupted by the desperate screams of a man on a faraway mountain, whom Richard jokes maybe meditating. One can’t help but parallel the desperate screaming man to the jolted awkward relationship of repressed emotions and unsettled histories between the two protagonists.
The next two film short films shall be grouped together for the only reason that they are both truly chilling. Brotherhood explores the relations between two Muslim brothers who have immigrated to the UK. They choose two very different occupations. Through the moral righteousness of one brother, both their lives become extremely dangerous. Nina Please revolves around a young Polish couple, in which Nina epitomises the oppressed woman who has to give up work to care for her baby.
Thankfully, in-between these harrowing yet thought provoking films was a delightful Canadian piece, Two Men, Two Cows, Two Guns (Pardis Parker) which is available to watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POcGENMfL_M
My personal favourite was The Trip, a piece set in the Polish countryside exploring the relationship between a girl of thirteen and her elderly grandfather. They go on wonderful camping excursions and the footage of the vast green landscapes are breath-taking. Her grandfather pokes about in trees, digging around, slips and falls down a grassy knoll whilst Asia watches and giggles, in-between playing with her mobile phone. They walk to the top of a hill where they sit and watch the sun set, where her grandfather offers Asia a priceless nugget of wisdom that time is more precious than any gold or silver. The sun is just about to set as Asia fiddles with her phone; the polyphonic tones rudely interrupt the tranquillity. She grabs for her digital camera as the sun drops below the horizon and takes a snap.
Words and photography by Natalya Paul
The sixth Flatpack Film Festival kicked off with a great night showcasing several classic silent films. This was the first event of this year’s Birmingham-based film festival, which screens a glut of films for every taste from classics such as The Elephant Man to surreal and niche shorts like The Cat With Hands.
Another Fine Mess was a showcase of black and white comedies from the early part of the twentieth century, accompanied by the expertise of Neil Brand, a pianist who accompanies silent movies across the world (he also featured on Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns TV series).
After we had taken our seats in the (surprisingly warm) cathedral along with 200 others ranging in age from teens to pensioners, Ian Francis, Director of Flatpack, gave a brief introduction to the four day festival taking place at venues across the city. It was then on to the main event as Neil Brand highlighted the recent renaissance of silent film, undoubtedly spurred on by the success of The Artist.
The first film we were show was A Pair of Tights, from 1929, which centred around a pair of tight wads taking two (hungry) ladies on a double date. Resisting their date’s calls for a slap-up turkey dinner, the ‘pair of tights’ agreed to splash out on four ice cream cones. This prompted hilarious scenes involving revolving doors, amorous dogs and fist-shaking policemen, climaxing in what can only be termed reciprocal slapstick violence. It was a great introduction to the genre and you quickly forgot that Neil Brand was playing the piano in the room throughout, his compositions matching the drama and his emphasis perfectly timed with what was happening on screen.
Next up was one of the highlights of the night: a short entitled The Dog Outwits The Kidnapper (1908). What starts out as a very sinister tale of a toddler kidnapping turns rapidly into a heroic story of canine bravery. I won’t ruin it for you, as it’s available on YouTube in all its glory, but I will say though that from a personal perspective any film involving a dog dressed up, or driving a car, is a winner in my book. See for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qApoxM41NGQ
Following these were some shorts illustrating the imagination, escapism and fantasy that characterised early black and white films. We were treated to eerie musical accompaniment for a man sneezing until he exploded (as funny as it sounds), a dramatisation of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (as if it had been filmed on an drug induced high), and a train journey through space to the sun. These were also some of the earliest first colour films, created by artists individually hand-painting every single film cell – an arduous task to say the least, but the results were undoubtedly astonishing to audiences of the time.
Then it was the final event, starring one of, if not the most famous double act in cinema history: Laurel and Hardy in You’re Darn Tootin‘ from 1928. Audience participation was key to the screening of this film, with a drum handed out to replicate the noise of a punch to the stomach, a triangle for a kick to the knee, and pieces of paper for everyone to rip during the fabulous final scene: a mass trouser ripping involving over a dozen characters.
Accompanied by rapturous laughter, Another Fine Mess was a great start to the festival and also a great introduction to the silent film genre, the piano accompaniment and introductions to each short by Neil Brand really enhanced the event. The mixture of ages in the audience shows the variety of appeal these films have, and the overall audio and visual experience were unlike those found in Cineworld, the Showcase or the Odeon, and more like that at the theatre or the concert hall – a refreshing change to say the least.
A final thought for those who may not be too familiar with the stars of the silent comedy era: if you grew up finding the Chuckle Brothers funny, you’ll be in tears watching anything involving Laurel and Hardy.
Words by Andy Newnham
Voice Festival UK came to the University of Birmingham on Saturday 25th of February for a regional round of its nation-wide competition. Three a capella groups from Birmingham, and one from the University of Leeds, sang their hearts out to win a place at the London final, with the ultimate hope of winning a cash prize and the coveted title of ‘Best UK University A Cappella Group 2012’.
While certainly thrilling for the contestants, the evening was extremely enjoyable for the audience also. Parents, friends and random spectators alike really got involved and it was clear there was a lot of support for the singers and the competition in general. The evening ran surprisingly smoothly, thanks to a great technical team and the funny and engaging compere, Matthew Saull. Evidently, a lot of work had been put into the event so as not to detract from the sole reason for being there; to hear the performances.
The night began with an excellent set of vocal arrangements by The Sons of Pitches. Dressed in matching, bright red boiler suits, the group came on to the stage in a burst of energy that was consistent throughout their performance. With mellow and harmonic tunes such, as Kimbra’s Settle Down, as well as an inventive and funny Club Medley, the group’s flexibility and choreography reflected their talent and definitely won the audience over.
The next act from Birmingham was a newly-formed mixed-group, Voice Versa. Whilst more self-contained than the previous act, their performance was strong nonetheless. Their arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours was especially superb and caught the interest of the judges who gave them a special award for it at the end of the night.
Despite being the only group from Leeds, the men and women from 95 Keys stood their ground and delivered three powerful arrangements. Their rendition of Chicago, with solos by vocalists, J Fogel and Hannah Perlin, was especially moving and highly appreciated by the judges. The final group, the all-girls Birmingham Songbirds livened the night with their red dresses and fun choreography. Complete with Beach Boys and Spice Girls medlies, their act was vigorous and entertaining.
After an interlude with one of the University’s very own stand-up comedians, the judges came on stage, thanking all attendees and participants. Awards like ‘Best Choreography’ and ‘Best vocal arrangement‘ were deservedly given, building the suspense before revealing who was going to London. It had obviously not been an easy decision, but after much deliberating The Sons of Pitches emerged victorious. Their encore performance ended the night on a high; it was a successful evening and great advertisement in general for Voice Festival UK.
For more info on Birmingham University’s A cappella scene, click on links to the groups’ webpages and University of Birmingham A Cappella Network on facebook.
Words by Elisha Owen
This summer a huge ship will be sailing into Birmingham as the centrepiece of a weekend of free outdoor performances to open the Cultural Olympiad. The Voyage – an hour long spectacle combining dance, theatre and music – will take place every evening at 10pm between 21-24 June in Victoria Square. The performances will be the culmination of a two year project between Leamington Spa’s highly regarded dance theatre company Motionhouse, Australian theatre company Legs on the Wall, the Birmingham Hippodrome, and Logela Multimedia.
Last Monday, I was invited to the launch event for The Voyage at Birmingham Town Hall. Through previous involvement with Motionhouse I had heard bits and pieces about this summer’s spectacle, but this was the first time I had been able to see how it is all going to look. The verdict? Very impressive and very ambitious! Five minutes into the thirty minute preview, given mainly by Kevin Finnan, the artistic director, I realised I was going to need to tweet and hash tag the flood of information he was expounding, and my opinions on it all. Here’s a brief synopsis from those tweets of what The Voyage is, what may make it a success, and what problems it might face:
The story is influenced by the history of sea voyages from the 1930s to the 1960s in an echo of those making their way to London this summer for the Olympics. Dancers, aerialists and assorted other performers will open the show by making their way through the crowd under a sea of tickertape and as they walk the gang plank onto the passenger liner they will accompanied by the huge amateur choir singing the ‘Song of Departure’. The ship will then ‘sail’ away on an ocean of tears from the numerous weeping eyes projected onto the hull and deck. The voyage can now take place, but it is punctuated by a violent storm and the ‘Dance of the Lost’ as passengers search for those washed overboard. Their rescue will take place within the crowd, and this interaction with the public and the immersive nature of the event is what underpins the whole ethos of The Voyage. The performance will finish with a triumphant and glorious arrival as the ship docks back into the square, the conclusion of an event involving not only professional dancers but also 140 community performers from the area.
Finnan gave the attendants a vivid idea of what The Voyage will look like, while leaving plenty of tantalising details to intrigue and ensure a large turn out on the opening night. The inspiration and ideas behind the performance, of immersive journeys and the “perusal of ideas” as Finnan put it, are immediately tangible to a public audience who may not have encountered dance and performance on this scale or level of ability before. The producers are aiming for an audience of 5000-6000 per night, which looks ambitious, especially as each ‘voyage’ doesn’t start until 10pm and takes place within the health and safety nightmare of the uneven square. The timing has obvious benefits and drawbacks: the night sky will make the whole show more dramatic, and a 10pm start allows those seeking evening entertainment in the city a cultural kick off before bars/clubs/recitals etc. However, the late start will also prevent young children from attending, and this is a major blow for families keen on taking in such an impressive (and free) event. All in all though, The Voyage is going to be an extraordinary way to spend a summer evening, and well worth students sticking around for (or making their own voyage back to the city). It’s certainly one I’m not going to be missing.
For regular updates follow @thevoyage2012 on Twitter.
Words by Andy Newnham
The soulful folk melodies of Pete Roe drifted around the atrium of the Symphony Hall, perfectly setting the scene for the rest of the night’s performances. Although the seats were not yet full, his set of folk and blues songs were clearly enjoyed by the audience, not only for the catchy melodies but also the heartfelt lyrics.
Next, Taylor Kirk, a sole member of Canadian folk rock band Timber Timbre entered the stage. Although unaccompanied by the rest of the band, he maintained a stage presence and the dissonant chords created a style of folk that can only be described as spooky. Despite this, a comparison to The Tallest Man on Earth springs to mind, but Timber Timbre certainly possessed grit, which echoed their Canadian roots. Even as a solo performer, Kirk’s vocals reverberated around the venue, and reminded the listener of a different age of folk music.
By now, the Symphony Hall was almost completely full and the anticipation for the headliner was electric. Without further ado, Laura Marling and her band entered the stage and instantly started to play I Was Just a Card, which was simply captivating. With the audience in the palm of her hand, Marling continued to perform stand out songs from her most recent album A Creature I Don’t Know. The song Salinas particularly showcased the talent of Marling’s band, in which the banjo player jumped between the French horn and the guitar.
After we enjoyed a few more richly accompanied songs, the band left the stage, leaving Marling with the audience to herself. This was without doubt the highlight of the show. Dimmed lights and just her new temperamental ‘big dog’ guitar made Marling the sole focus; the vastness of the venue was no longer apparent. We were treated to new song Master Hunter, but renditions of Ghosts and Alas, I Cannot Swim reminded us of how Marling has progressed as an artist since her debut; they sounded so light and care-free compared to the darker elements present in her latest album.
Blackberry Stone was a standout moment, the accompaniment building from just the cello to the whole band once more, and was truly beautiful to experience. Ending the set with the atmospheric I Speak Because I Can and Goodbye England (Covered in Snow), Marling appeared vulnerable yet somehow wise beyond her years. Laura Marling’s talent for creating a style of folk that feels fresh and relevant was showcased in this performance. However, the set was over far too quickly. Ending on a crescendo, Marling and her band departed, leaving the entire hall wanting more.
Words by Annabelle Collins
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery situated in Victoria square is currently buzzing with visitors to see the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition and The Staffordshire Hoard which are currently housed there. However, despite these prestigious collections travelling quite some distance to Birmingham, one of the most intriguing and eclectic collections is one very closely related to the gallery itself.
After her death on New Year’s Day, Tessa Sidey, former curator of prints and drawings within the gallery, bequeathed her personal collection to the museum. And the exhibit A Life in Prints: The Tessa Sidey Bequest displays these artworks providing an intimate insight into the former curator’s personal tastes.
Gallery 20 is an appropriate temporary home for this collection of pieces. The white walls allow any visitor to really appreciate the both the colourful and shaded, which there is a most certainly a mixture. Ranging from Catherine Yass’ images of city life, which are a busy mixture of bright neon shades and dynamic lines created by capturing city lights, to the muted black and white etchings from a collection of artists, to the minimalist work of Josef Albers. Despite the potential with such a range of works they are arranged in a way that the complement each other perfectly and are extremely enjoyable to view one after another.
Furthermore, there are a handful of pieces that stand out because of their relation to the recent events and modern culture. It is not often in a museum that one could find a mixed media work depicting Che Guevara so close to a portrait of Lily Cole. However, this only adds to the sense of the collection belonging to an individual working with portrayals of society in art within the BMAG for 30 years. Also, the personal feel of this collection is particularly striking when viewing Keith Piper’s work The Ghosts of Christendom next to an image of Tessa Sidey alongside the work itself.
This exhibit is fascinating to look round and a pleasant contrast to the vast range of more traditional paintings the gallery houses as permanent exhibits. I would strongly suggest a visit and not to be too tempted to rush straight into the queue to view Da Vinci’s work at the risk of by-passing this gem of a collection.
Words by Beth Dawson
For six years now, Wrote Under Publishing has been the epitome of the underground poet collective. Having initially had their material rejected by established publishing companies for ‘uncouth language’, the group displayed classic artistic obstinacy and gathered together to fundraise and publish off their own backs. Sunday Xpress is the chief event that serves this purpose; advertised as a ‘very open mic’, it appeals to any upcoming artists and musicians who wish to showcase and hone their material to an open minded audience. The project has thus far raised enough money for two anthologies to be published by its hosting collaboration, which in fact includes Birmingham’s unofficial poet laureate Brendan Higgins, best known for his poem ‘Shopping’. Held once a month at the Adam and Eve, it fits nicely into the Digbeth culture which is so heavily saturated with underground music and art, from the staple reggae club PST Reds to the increasingly popular Rainbow Complex, and has now returned for its Sunday afternoon slot.
Considering the hype that has surrounded this event in the past, the most recent one on Sunday 28th February came as rather a surprise. The Adam and Eve, ordinarily brought to life with reggae music, smiling staff and eccentric punters, was mostly empty for the majority of the event and the audience that was there seemed to be largely populated by the few acts that were to perform.
Of course, a small audience does not always mean a bad event. It was the selection of acts that was most unanticipated, considering the variety of talent that is undoubtedly present around Digbeth. The young poet that stepped up to the stage near the start set the tone for the rest of the afternoon; he certainly had a basic grasp on rhyme and meter, but his monotonous delivery dragged his audience through an assortment of dreary motifs, perhaps best exemplified in the line ‘Everything is disgusting’. This basic lack of performance skills was an unfortunately common theme throughout the afternoon, ultimately culminating in the amateur cover band The Two Daves who opened their set with David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. The bass was hesitant, the singer yelped rather than sang and both Daves were out of time. Dave Number One’s attempt to entertain the audience with a bad joke about a ‘cold air balloon’ in between songs fell on deaf ears, and it was a sad revelation when it became clear that Dave the guitarist, despite his shaky start, was in fact quite talented. His lingering guitar solo was upstaged by Dave the so-called singer’s flat notes in their rendition to Pink Floyd’s Money, making their joke at the start of their set that they were open to a third Dave seem more like a desperate appeal for some real talent.
There was, however, one redeeming artist for the event, and that was the singer that followed the morose poet. Despite his seemingly outdated championing of 1960s and 70s politics (his pun on The Animals House of the Rising Sun as a faux tribute to the Queen’s jubilee was somewhat reminiscent of the old anarchy scene) his topical songs and ironical statements made for a refreshing outlook on not only the event itself but today’s world perspective. The lines ‘Why would they lie? That would be absurd’ and ‘Al Quaeda Bogey Man’, although perhaps a bit too radical for a relaxed Sunday afternoon of poetry, did manage to cast an original eye upon the representations of controversial topics in the media today. No matter what your political persuasion, this singer’s bleak humour and mixture of poetry and song added to create an unconventional entertaining experience.
The danger of the ‘very open mic’ attitude is that sometimes amateur and bad acts dominate the afternoon. This particular Sunday was an especially slow day for Sunday Xpress, but considering this event’s past significance within Birmingham’s underground arts scene it should not be immediately dismissed. It may well be that Wrote Under’s event is depleting in popularity and talent, but it is still early days for 2012. It will be interesting to see what Sunday Xpress has to offer in the coming months, and whether the quality of its performers will show an improvement.
Words by Becca Inglis