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CBSO Friday Night Classics: A Wonderful Christmastime

A relaxed and festive atmosphere met the audience of the Symphony Hall on Friday, 13th December 2013, as the CBSO took to the stage to begin the Christmas Celebrations in earnest. Conductor Carl Davis took charge of the orchestra for the evening, and from start to finish, he was a man possessed – dancing his way through Christmas Classics such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Wonderful Christmastime, and Let it Snow! with the liveliness and enthusiasm of one tasked with instilling that Christmassy feeling into the hearts of each and every audience member.

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Right from the very start, Davis’s Christmas cheer was infectious. He was able to put a really personal spin on the evening’s proceedings, aided in no small way by his playful chats with the audience, in between each number. Indeed, audience participation was the order of the day here, as, in many of the Christmas favourites, such as When a Child is Born, Davis would turn to the audience and gesture for them to sing along.

The performances of the two soloists further added to this festive feeling. Lance Ellington, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, was smooth throughout, giving a particularly velvety rendition of The Christmas Song. Ellington’s co-star, Katy Treharne, gave an equally stellar performance, culminating in her touching delivery of Niles’s I Wonder As I Wander. The pair enjoyed great chemistry, especially in duets such as Baby it’s Cold Outside.

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It was above all, however, the orchestra that stole the show, performing beautifully arranged, traditional Christmas classics with skill and ease. Whether accompanying the vocalists, or performing festive favourites such as A Christmas Overture by Hess, and Prokofiev’s Troika from Lieutenant Kijé, the CBSO constantly entertained its audience. The players were also game for some festive frivolity, as, after the interval, the majority of them reappeared wearing assorted Christmas paraphernalia; knitwear, tinsel clad instruments, Santa hats, and reindeer antlers. Conductor Carl Davis also got in on the act; he resurfaced after the interval (to his biggest cheer of the evening) wearing a resplendent red suit and tails – which, along with his mane of white hair, resulted in more than a passing resemblance to Chris Cringle himself.

CBSO_Dress_Rehearsal_2011_166.sizedFittingly then, it was Davis who would produce more delightful presents for the audience. The second half proceeded in even more of a ‘song and dance’ style than the first, culminating in the energetic encore, Wizzard’s I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day. This capped a fine evening, as Davis and the orchestra went into Christmas party overdrive – the audience were ordered to their feet for the biggest sing-and-dance-a-long of the evening. Leaving Symphony Hall, I could not help but carry with me a huge smile and a large helping of Christmas Cheer. With the big event nearly upon us, this concert was the perfect way to kick off the festive season.

By James Parsliffe     @jamesparsliffe

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Apples and Snakes presents: Litfuse @ mac birmingham

LitFuse

Friday 8th November 2013 7:30pm £5/7 @ mac

How far can you push the boundaries of performance? See what happens when some of the most exciting spoken word poets leave their comfort zones.

Lit Fuse, developed jointly by mac birmingham and Apples and Snakes, is a series of events showcasing new work devised by UK poets in collaboration with top directors and producers. Don’t miss this opportunity to be there at the start of something big – help us light the fuse!

The November 2013 edition will premiere four brand new long pieces written and performed by four exciting Birmingham-based poets:

  • Elisabeth Charis, writer, allotment neglector, boater, thinker, watcher of people, obsessive noter.
  • Ben Norris, an actor, writer, and sadness fighter; a student, brother, and strong cheese lover
  • Roy Mcfarlane, just walking the earth, delivering words, wherever he sees it and however he feels it.
  • Lily Blacksell: a word sayer and saxophone player, Lily studies English with Creative Writing. GSOH essential.

They will be working with director Polly Tisdall, who creates work which explores the relationship between spoken word, storytelling and theatre.

For a taster of what the night will include, watch Ben Norris perform ‘Gravity’:

Book tickets here: http://www.macarts.co.uk/booking/seating/?id=68743 or pay on the night.

Is this fur real? Fashion and the fur industry.

The fur trade is always a hot topic – with animal activists and fashion addicts constantly at each other’s throats in the media because of it. Most of us will remember Sophie-Ellis Bexter holding up a skinned fox for a PETA anti-fur campaign a few years ago, and we’ve all heard stories about activists throwing red paint over models in white fur coats.

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     Similar to most people, I’ve never actually taken much notice of these sorts of things. I always thought it must be an exaggerated cause by do-gooders trying to shock people into signing petitions. Until recently, the fur trade was something that I had placed alongside fox hunting and animal testing – horribly cruel, yes, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never actively checked a shampoo bottle to make sure it hadn’t been tested on animals.

     Heading into the depths of Digbeth in the few weeks of my first year, I quickly became a vintage enthusiast – it’s cheap, it’s different, and it’s usually great quality if you know what to look for. Shopping was no longer a depressing trawl around Topshop pining after things I could definitely not afford. But still, as far as I was concerned, real fur was for the rich and the fabulous – a far cry from a student like me with barely enough money for a return-ticket to Selly Oak. The closest I’d ever got to fur was a shaggy pair of moon boots that I had worn to death in year four.

     During a regular shopping trip, I headed to one of my favourite little shops in the city centre – Vintage on Ally Street (down the first side road on the left as you head down Digbeth high street). I picked up a really cool jacket – a denim splash-dye number that I fell in love with instantly. I tried it on and it fitted perfectly. Barely even inspecting the collar, I headed to the till and thrusted a grubby tenner at the lady who owns, and runs, the shop. As I handed over my money, she casually said, ‘I should let you know that it is real fur on the collar.’ I didn’t think much of it, and proceeded with the transaction. My reasoning in that moment was that the animal was already dead – and if this jacket was not worn, it had died in vain. Surely, that was a reasonable argument to buy it?

     For a fair few months I felt tremendous wearing my jacket. Friends would touch the fur and ask if it was real, to which I would proudly inform them that it was. Many recoiled in disgust, but I felt glamorous and fashionable so for some time that was enough to keep it as a firm wardrobe favourite.

     My opinion took a dramatic turn recently when I was doing my daily trawl of my Facebook newsfeed. A friend had shared a video entitled ‘Olivia Munn exposes Chinese Fur Trade.’ I would advise that anyone who stumbles across this video should not watch it unless you have a very strong stomach. By the end, I was in tears and felt physically nauseous after seeing terrified animals being electrocuted, choked and even skinned alive. The sheer disgust and anger that I felt after watching this absolutely revolting and shocking cruelty to such beautiful, innocent creatures stayed with me for several days. I grabbed my jacket and when it started malting, I felt like I had blood on my hands.

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     Since then, I have researched the fur trade – trawling through websites detailing some of the appalling realities of the fur trade. But it’s not only the fur trade that is so disgusting – leather is just as cruel, raking in £600 million annually from Great Britain alone. Countless campaigns have been set up by animal-rights activists to abolish huge fur and leather firms, but most of the time these efforts come to no avail, as the demand for these materials are still so high. What I found particularly upsetting was that much-loved, familiar pets such as cats, dogs, rabbits and even guinea-pigs are mercilessly killed to feed the hungry fur trade – with around 2 million being killed every year in China alone and being sold on to European traders. I felt sick at the thought that my fur collar could have come from a puppy.

     Typing ‘fur trade in Birmingham’ into Google, I was surprised to find that there are so many fur traders in Birmingham who are feeding this terrible industry. Formally, these businesses are called ‘Furriers’, and most are not based in the city centre. One in particular that caught my eye was ‘Madeline Ann’ – a small shop in Solihull that sells fur items.  This shop has been targeted by a local mqdefaultactivist group who are campaigning to stop the shop from selling fur by sending angry letters to the owners and discouraging locals from entering the shop. I felt a pang of relief that something was being done, but at the same time a sad realisation that these efforts would probably come to nothing. Most vintage shops in Birmingham sell fur coats, and the vintage scene is most certainly thriving. Fur is fashionable, and unfortunately not enough thrifters are aware of the disgusting processes behind their ‘bargains.’

     However, I have started doing my bit. I can’t deny that I still love the jacket, but it mainly lives in the depths of my wardrobe these days. When my grandmother recently offered me her old fur coat that she wore when she was ‘a girl… and a size 10’ – the first question that I asked was, ‘is the fur real?’ My fingers were firmly crossed as I observed the beautiful garment, until she assured me that it was fake. The coat is my new favourite item of outerwear. When people ask me if it’s real, I can proudly tell them that I no longer wear real fur, and that fake is most certainly the way forward.

By Meg Evans

@mkevans92

The Gentlemen Press presents: Poetry Espionage

The event is held downstairs in the Six Eight Kafé, Temple Row, Birmingham. There are small tables with small chairs and small candles. Cosy and kooky; your perfect location for a gathering of new musicians and poets.

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Joseph Sale is hosting. Humble as ever, he recites just two of his marvellous poems tonight and only picks up a guitar during the interval. His warmth and buoyancy creates an atmosphere of genuine intimacy and unity between performers and audience.

Max Merrick-Wren is my new favourite musician. He wields guitar and harmonica as if they’re extra limbs, for the most part with his eyes closed. His voice is soothing; his passion consistent throughout. I prefer his own songs to the Dylan cover, especially the gently powerful ‘High Horse’, with its climactic ending. The only constructive point I have is for him to inhale more quietly. I can’t wait to get hold of an album.

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Joseph Sale performs ‘The Necromancer’, a haunting piece about raising the figures of history, listening to the ‘silence that became their voice’. Like the mysterious woman I am ‘wonder-morphed’, both by the ideas Joe evokes and the words with which he (appropriately) brings them to life.

Carl Sealeaf gives us two-and-a-half poems, due to an endearing bout of memory loss. The first half of ‘Growth’ is wonderful, expressing his fear of ‘acting out someone else’s definition of growing older, broader at the shoulders but still shrivelled at the heart’. His last piece about macaroni, festivities, ‘stale air’ and ‘oil-smeared hands’ culminates beautifully with a sad and simple point about family. I am left uplifted by his art but saddened by the things it says.

Next is the Italiano Duo, playing for the first time together in this country. Their covers include ‘New Shoes’ by Paolo Nutini, ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse, and ‘Warning Sign’ and ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay. Their nerves show a little but their gift is undeniable; Winehouse is obviously their favourite since their attitude and the volume are cranked right up. They shouldn’t be shy; their talent deserves confidence.

Elisha Owen offers us six poems in a voice perfectly suited to recital. She carries us with a quiet pensive joy through the vivid Spanish landscape of ‘Handprints’ where ‘the water creates a rhythm that foreigners dance to’. She reads ‘Prostrate Shadows’ where Muslim men are ‘sentinels beckoning the sunrise’, ‘Racing’, ‘Long Jump’, ‘Origami’, in which a seven year old boy  tries to sell her his art, and finally, ‘In the Days Before They Made Them Biodegradable’, where one plastic bag is transformed into a family treasure.

Sean Neil performs three songs; solemn, honest and touching. His strumming could flow better and he needs to use his diaphragm more, but bearing in mind that I can’t sing and play to save my life, that he wrote all of his own songs and that they’re very good ones, I hardly have a right to comment. His work is reminiscent of Damien Rice without the Irish accent, which suits me fine.

386765_299333770097854_1784160791_nNext is Giles Longley-Cook. We flit through dreary rooms in ‘Reflections in Jordan’ and the joys of alcohol in ‘The Budweiser Gita’, while he drinks pointedly from a bottle. After a disturbing piece on the politics of the Holy Land, Giles pauses to let us listen to the whirring of a fan and the sounds of the café above before stating, hauntingly, that ‘I have never fully known silence’. This poem strikes me in a fresh and thought-provoking way before he thunders on into a mock Christmas carol for his finale.

Aliena and Peter follow up with a few covers as well as some of their own compositions (lyrics by Chris who sits bashfully in the audience). The guitar is a bit too loud but Aliena uses this to her advantage and blows us all away with her vocal power; Peter is both talented and utterly unassuming. My favourite song is ‘Avenue of Cosmonauts’, sullen and gripping and very bass-y.

Ben Norris reads a delightful poem derived from his lecture notes on the European Novel. It is sharp and witty, diving from humour to seriousness and back again. The wonderful twist is that although lecture notes in poetry is an innovative idea, the piece insists that nothing is ever truly original. ‘Meaning is contingent’, he claims, ‘his name is Echo’. Ben proceeds with a touching poem ‘Southern Hemisphere’, and then reads ‘After Babel, After Pisa’ concerning theories of the University Library’s reconstruction, and a lovely piece about keeping hold of somebody by collecting physical memories.

Joe rounds the night off with ‘Circles’, a farewell poem that reminds me of Bilbo’s ‘The Road Goes Ever On’. Profound and heart-warming, it weaves in circles of thought about this little gathering of artists and the common desires that brought us together.

‘We must not shake,’ he encourages us, ‘we must not fear, to seek the dream that brought us to this place’.

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A special thanks to The Gentlemen Press for running this event. We hope to see more from you soon.

For more information, visit www.gentlemenpress.com

By Danielle Bentley

‘Hidden Gem’ of the Balti Triangle, Al Frash

The Balti Triangle of South East Birmingham epitomises freshness, flavour and the spice explosion your taste buds desire when you sit down for a true Pakistani/Kashmiri Balti experience. Al Frash, which translates from Persian to ‘The Butterfly’, was my first experience of a traditional Balti. It is without doubt a hidden gem of a restaurant. Established in 1991, its numerous accolades include being a finalist for Birmingham’s Best India Restaurant 2011, which acknowledges its cultural charm.

The Balti is a cultural highlight in itself. Loosely based on home-style traditional cooking, the Balti came to Birmingham in the mid-1970s. Its defining features include the wide cast-iron pan shaped bowl it is served in, and also named after, which is perfect for navigating your naan to wipe up all the delicious juices and spices. The bowls have become a crucial cultural addition as they are now manufactured in Birmingham. It is also, as many weight-watchers may be pleased to know, made with fresh spices rather than pastes and has a tomato and onion base with the use of vegetable oil instead of ghee – making the Balti a healthy and authentic alternative. Although, I cannot doubt that once you have tried the dish and the restaurants’ other beautiful offerings, you will leave feeling stuffed.

Al Frash certainlyprovides something extra for their customers. When I entered the small pocket of wonder amidst the vibrancy of Ladypool road, I could appreciate why Al Frash was praised highly online. We were made to feel immediately at home. The sole waiter, upon being asked if we needed to pay for the car park opposite, joked that we just needed to pay him whatever we felt was adequate. He gave a beaming smile and led us to a cosy table in the corner of the restaurant. It is the perfect size for an intimate dinner and has a friendly atmosphere – being full of locals who were obviously regulars.

We started with the sizzling lamb chops tikka, where my fellow curry taster remarked ‘the meat just melts in your mouth’, and the chicken tikka, which was also succulent and juicy. You cannot deny the freshness of the spices used in the dishes. The side of yogurt and pickles we enjoyed with our poppadum had that deep, rich flavour you look for in a good dip. It probably would have been sacrilege not to order a Balti in the Balti Triangle, so we duly ordered chicken and king prawn traditional Baltis with the obligatory naan and rice. It was unbelievably good value for money. The meat and fish were cooked to perfection, and the presentation of the Balti itself was fabulous: sitting in the traditional bowl, next to a naan far too big for the plate. It was clear, from the stilting of the conversation, that it was exactly what we had hoped for.

My experience of the Balti triangle has opened my eyes to another part of Birmingham’s rich culture and heritage. The Balti Triangle also provides great insight into the communities and culture of the area. Each individually prepared dish has been exceptional every time I have visited. It would be a travesty to miss out on the beauty of Chef Azam’s offerings, and the prices are perfect with the usual BYOB policy. Al Frash is a far reach from the curry houses of Selly Oak.

Holly Abel

@HollyAbel3

David Edgar: The Poetry of Plays @ Birmingham Book Festival

Birmingham Book Festival, in association with The Writer’s Guild, were glad to welcome David Edgar to the University of Birmingham last Wednesday. Drawing upon his immensely successful book How Plays Work, and his extensive career as both award-winning playwright and teacher of dramatic writing, David Edgar’s discussion of ‘The Poetry of Plays’promised to be an interesting evening.

Aptly situated in Muirhead Tower, where Edgar laid the foundations for Britain’s first full time university playwriting course over twenty years ago, the session attracted a diverse audience of fans, students and aspiring writers. In contrast to most of the festival’s other events, the atmosphere was academic – with several members of the audience eagerly toting notepads to catch Edgar’s advice as he spoke.

Edgar began by defining the poetry of plays; not as the iambic verse of Shakespeare’s plays but as a poetic similarity of form. He vividly compared this to the human skeleton; a common factor in all manner of scripts and screenplays, from Shakespeare to Hollywood films. The vibrant discussion which followed was brought to life by a small cast of actors, including Benedict Hastings and Elinor Middleton, who were also involved in the touring poetry performance Being Human. As Edgar spoke, his arguments were peppered with extracts from a diverse variety of plays including Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest and Howard Brenton’s Epsom Downs, which served not only to entertain, but also to demonstrate the effects he described.

A farcical scene from Richard Sheridan’s School of Scandal was used to illustrate the way a writer is able, through the introduction of new characters and repetition, to build tension within a scene. Similarly, this and Caryl Churchill’s Ice Cream were performed alongside modern movie scripts to illustrate the effects of stichomythia in creating compelling, naturalistic but also delicately controlled dialogue.

Through introducing us to the texts in performance, Edgar allowed the audience to witness first-hand the effects of brilliantly written scenes, before focusing on the techniques used to evoke their reactions. For example, he showed what he considered to be the most effective ‘drop lines’ of popular theatre. He contrasted the rejection of Falstaff by Prince Hal in Henry IV, with the tense and devastating put down of Cecily by Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest:

‘Cecily: […] When I see a spade I call it a spade.                                                                                                  Gwendolen: [Satirically] I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade.’ (II.295-29)

He went on to discuss how dialogue can be manipulated to create dramatic irony; namely, through the process of translation and consequent misunderstandings. This was accompanied by humorous and touching scenes from Brian Friel’s Translations, in which Irish and English characters experience both the opportunities and restrictions of a language barrier. The way in which Edgar explored the plays was both fascinating and enlightening, for either those seeking a better understanding of performance, or those with an interest in playwriting itself.

Despite overrunning slightly, there were plenty of questions from the audience aimed not only at David Edgar himself but also encouraging the actors to express their experience of performing on the stage. This led to an interesting, albeit truncated, look at characterisation from the views of the audience, actors and playwrights which rounded off an extremely fun and informative evening.

Birmingham Book Festival is now over for this year, more information about the annual festival can be found on their website:  http://www.birminghambookfestival.org/ For further information about events associated with The Writers Guild, visit : http://www.writersguild.org.uk/

Rachel Eames

@rfeames

Simon Armitage: Walking Home @ Birmingham Book Festival

When it comes to public speaking Simon Armitage has always been renowned as a writer with a sense of humour. His talk at the Birmingham Book Festival proved no different. His allotted time wasn’t just about how many funny anecdotes he could tell before the end of the night, however. The evening’s discussion focused mainly on his new novel Walking Home, a book about his backwards and penniless journey of the Pennine Way.

The evening began with Armitage’s explanation for walking the arduous 256 miles. He described growing up in Marsden, part of the Pennine Way trail, and watching the shadows of walkers descend upon his town in the summer. The most vivid image was that of two travellers who had pitched a tent near his house and decided to stay in Marsden, opening up their tent to let wafts of smoke out every now and again.

Having seen so many others do it the author felt he should give it a go but with the twist of using no money. He wanted to test the value of poetry, and his worth as a poet, trading lodging for poetry readings. His choice to do the walk in reverse meant ending the walk in Marsden; a physical challenge, as well as a test of his personal value.

Continuing to reflect on his childhood, Armitage reminisced of slide-shows his town would display every year – ‘sometimes the Priest’s holiday pictures would end up in there’ – and used this as a cue for his own slide-show. The comments that complemented the presentation were minimal but effective; ‘this is a door’ was met with a roar of laughter. With every picture the audience anticipated his next witty remark.

By the end of the talk, the listeners knew everything they needed to know about the making of Walking Home. The time came to hear the result of Armitage’s endeavour to write prose rather than poetry. Before this, he admitted the intention of the walk was to provide inspiration for new poems but unfortunately the part of his brain, which he used for walking, was the part he also used for creating verse too. Yet this wasn’t evident in the extracts heard by the audience. While it certainly read like prose the attention to detail and descriptions of various parts of the journey felt like they had been taken out of lines of poetry. The charm of the novel was that the change in form hadn’t resulted in a change in style. There was a nice balance of insightful observations, alongside smirk-prescribing stories to make the novel worth its merit.

Before the Q&A Armitage indulged the audience in one last anecdote from his walk titled ‘The Doughnut Man’. It involved an incident, during a reading, where the audience’s laughter and attention was diverted to a man in a doughnut costume stood just behind him. The bizarreness of the situation was a great way to end a relaxing evening, which never had a dull moment.

If you missed him at the Birmingham Book Festival, Simon Armitage will next be reading at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on Tuesday 16th October 2012. 

Andy Cashmore

@AndyJCash