Tag Archives: Digbeth

The Robert Glasper Experiment @ The Institute, Digbeth

robert glasper

The vibes at The Institute on Thursday night were as cool as the soft, blue colours that gently lit the main room. I walked in to the fresh, jazzy sounds of Mercury Prize nominee Soweto Kinch. He was a more than adequate starting act, and after displaying his reputable talents as a saxophonist, he then revealed his skills as both a written lyricist and freestyle emcee. Kinch’s slot was capped off with a jaw-dropping display of lyrical skill, in which he set himself an acrostic challenge of incorporating words that spelled D-I-G-B-E-T-H into improvised verses (the words having been shouted out by random members of the audience). From due diligence to hunger, Soweto Kinch surpassed the challenge with ease, to a hearty and well-deserved applause.

Shortly after, The Robert Glasper Experiment took to the stage, and as soon as they did, Glasper charmingly suspended all elements of pretence with a simple “Hello, how you doing?” For the most part, I truly did not know what to expect from their live performance. Prior to the gig I was mostly familiar with the group’s collaborative works (including features from Erykah Badu, Emeli Sande, and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def, to name a very select few) but huge crowd favourites such as ‘Ah Yeah’ and ‘Let It Ride’ proved to be just as powerful without their respective vocalists, and for many songs this was somewhat of a blessing in disguise, shifting the focus towards the band’s ability to play off of each other and improvise, which is essential of any show associated with jazz.

What was refreshing about the band was that, despite Glasper being their namesake, there was no true frontman of the group. Equal attention was given to Casey Benjamin (vocoder and saxophone), Mark Colenburg (drums), and Travis Burgess (bass, presumably filling in for Derrick Hodge) as well as Robert Glasper himself. In fact, the term solo was taken quite literally during the show, with other band members often leaving the stage to lend the spotlight to their fellow band members, whose showcases of instrumental skill did not disappoint. Even the vocals were at a casual volume that blended with the other instruments. However, this often meant that Benjamin’s words were drowned out by the drums, particularly during Colenburg’s heavier jams. At times this was a little bit frustrating, and I felt that perhaps the synthesised vocals that gave the Black Radio albums (Black Radio 2 in particular) such a unique touch simply could not be done justice by a live performance – or maybe the levels just needed a bit of tweaking. Either way, for the songs with more recognisable lyrics, nothing was lost in translation, as the strong crowd helped to raise the volume for The Robert Glasper Experiment’s well-known renditions of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and ‘Lovely Day’. The latter which performance entailed Benjamin’s light vocals making the perfect match for Glasper’s gentle piano chords.

Covers were certainly expected due to the aforementioned Nirvana and Bill Withers numbers, but that knowledge didn’t prepare me for their sensational performances of ‘No Church In the Wild’, and a shorter, but more polished version of Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, which somehow seamlessly transitioned into a slow and emotive version of ‘Get Lucky’ (don’t ask how, but believe me, it really did).

Just when we thought the music couldn’t get any better, guest vocals from a Birmingham-born female singer added a beautiful, organic tone to their smooth, Neo soul sound, and in the closing few numbers, Glasper spoke the immortal words, “Soweto, where you at? Come spit some raps”. Mr Kinch graced the stage once again with his saxophone talents and more freestyle finesse, and the way he thrived off the musical environment around him was a genuine treat to watch.

All in all, it was a fantastic performance from an incredibly tight and talented band, and the at-times smothered vocals in no way detracted from what the gig was truly about: good, soulful music. 

by Oliver Clifford

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Meet the Locals: Birmingham Vintage Fair @ The Custard Factory

On Saturday 23rd November, Alice Cudmore wandered down to the Birmingham Vintage Fair, held in The Custard Factory, Digbeth, to meet and chat to some of the lovely stall-holders.

Name: Charlottevintage fair 1
Stall name: Lottie’s Lots
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“I realised a few years ago that I’d come out of Topshop and see five more people wearing everything that I’d just bought. I got bored of mainstream fashion and decided to go into vintage. It’s much more exciting and it offers loads more interesting, one-off pieces.”

What’s your favourite vintage era?
The ’50s

vintage fair 2Name: Paul
Stall name: Madame Cherry
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“It’s actually my wife who owns the stall, I just help her on weekends. She’s really crafty and arty, and wanted to find an outlet for her creativity. She started making jewellery and then did a few test fairs, before deciding to do this full time.”

Name: Annavintage fair 3
Stall name: Dolly Anna Does
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“I’m actually a fashion designer by trade, and this was another outlet for my work, and also great for getting ideas and networking in the fashion industry!”

Favourite vintage era?
The ’60s

vintage fair 4Name: Kyshia
Stall Name: Newell Accessories (“It’s a family name – I wanted to keep it close to home and it means if I have any children they can always take over one day!”)
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“This is actually my first one! I really liked the jewellery I was seeing around with the new vintage craze, and thought I could have a go myself!”

Favourite vintage era?
The 60’s – “It was so exciting! I was born in the ’80s but I wish I’d been around in the ’60s!”

vintage fair 5Name: Chloe
Stall name: Elsie and Fred
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“Well we actually have a shop in Coventry called Elsie and Fred (after two of our friends). We wanted to spread the word and get more people interested in vintage!”

Favourite vintage era?
The ’60s

by Alice Cudmore

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

Bastille @ HMV Institute

Last Wednesday, Bastille played at the HMV Institute in Digbeth. Bastille are what one might call an ‘indie’ band, however they were also named the ‘New Band of the Day’ in The Guardian in July. A talented quartet from South London who formed in 2010, Bastille have recently found commercial success after their first single, ‘Flaws’, was featured on ‘Made In Chelsea’. A more recent track, ‘Weight Of Living’, was also included on the Fifa 13 soundtrack. 

When it comes to their sound, front man Dan Smith describes Bastille as ‘Coldplay meets Friendly Fires: music that’s quite broad, but with edge’. They’re a perfect mix of electronic and indie, and there doesn’t seem to be a single rotten egg in their collection of songs.

Bastille performed in The Temple room, and upon arrival a warm-up band were helping out with the sound checks and having banter with the crowd. Soon after, the supporting group appeared on stage. Swiss Lips were definitely a bonus, rather than a disappointment, and their biggest Youtube hits ‘Danz’ and ‘U Got The Power’ were highlights of the set. Their music was fun and everyone danced to the first song – even though most people were probably unfamiliar with their music. For fans of The Black Keys and/or La Roux, they might be appealing. Plus, the keyboardist promised to check out UoB Blogfest!

After a few minutes of excited babbling from the audience, Bastille appeared. Commencing with the rousing ‘Icarus’, Dan Smith had the crowd going wild within minutes. However, he was not your typical cocky frontman – he and his band were very humble, thanking the crowd after every cheer. You could see in their faces that their huge, and very rapid, success had yet to sink in. This only added to their appeal.

After a few of their bigger hits, for example ‘Laura Palmer’ and ‘Bad Blood’, everyone waited for one of their brilliant covers that have been particularly popular on YouTube. This included a slow, sensual cover of Lana Del Ray’s ‘Blue Jeans’; their fantastic version of City High’s ‘What Would You Do’; and towards the end, the pounding eighties anthem ‘Rhythm Of The Night’. One thing that Bastille do incredibly well is take a song and make it their own, and the quality of their sound was just as high when performing live as it is in their recorded material. After being on stage for a good hour, Bastille rounded the show up. They ended with the bittersweet ‘Get Home’, which everyone sung along to like they had really got their money’s worth. Bastille are truly great performers, in terms of sound and stage charisma, and if you get the chance to see them perform live they are a definite must.

Megan Evans

@mkevans92

Sunday Xpress @ the Adam and Eve

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

Related links:
Micky Greaney
Tell Me on a Sunday (part 1)
The Poets’ Place
Hit the Ode (part 1)
Hit the Ode (part 2)

What is Art?

‘Art is the pinnacle of nature.’ Gavin Wade.

On an extremely cold, Friday 13th evening I ventured into Digbeth to find St Basils Church and a discussion entitled ‘What is Art?’ Coming from a creative writing background with an interest in art but no real knowledge on the subject, I was surprised to have a conversation with the IKON gallery curator Tyler Cann about his short lived career as a potter in a small town in Japan; this was only the beginning of a very interesting evening.

‘What is Art?’ was organised by West Bromwich artist and maths teacher, Kartar Uppal as a fundraiser based in St Basils Church. The Kartar Uppal charity works with young homeless people, offering accommodation and support services around Birmingham. The event hosted an expert panel gathered around the front stage, consisting of IKON gallery curator Tyler Cann, director of artist-run public gallery Eastside Projects Gavin Wade, and local artist and lecturer Kathy Wade.

The venue itself was fitting for such a discussion with an impressive gold mural at the back of the church. Around twenty people, including local artists and teachers, braved the weather to witness the event. Kartar Uppal kicked off the discussion in theoretical style, with talk of Wittgenstein, Saussure, language games, and trees, basing his argument that art is another form of a language game. Each of the panelists gave their interpretations as to this theory; Gavin Wade retold a story about a conversation with a Glaswegian taxi driver who believed that Henrik Larsson, then a Celtic footballer, to be the greatest artist ever. This emphasized the idea that art is created within the viewer, whether it be a Scottish cabbie or the artist themselves, rather than the actual object itself.

After a discussion between all four panelists about the authority of art, Tyler Cann, who openly admitted to not having considered this question, quoted the American poet Robert Frost, ‘If you are not educated in metaphor, then you are not fit to be let loose on the world’. They went on to say that for art to exist some knowledge has to be known by the viewer before seeing the object. Gavin Wade gave the example that viewing a Jackson Pollock painting for the first time without any knowledge of his work could lead the viewer to think that this is uncomplicated and perhaps even childlike. However with knowledge about Pollack’s career and that he was the first to practice his particular style of painting helps in the understanding and appreciation of his art. However, Kathy Wade made an important interjection that with the advent of the internet and social media, the notion of an artist is being disintegrated with anyone who owns a handheld camera being able to become a published ‘artist’. This could then be dangerous for the integrity of art.

The discussion was by no means exhaustive, and the panelists could have talked into the small hours of the morning but Karthar brought the event to a close. Despite the best efforts of the panel no concrete answer was found to ‘What is Art?’ but all in all the night was a great success. The event shone a spotlight on the vibrant and diverse Birmingham art scene, of which there is certainly more to experience than walking past the IKON gallery and buying another Starbucks cappuccino.

Words by Sam Murphy
13th Jan 2012