Tag Archives: the Victoria

Student Nightlife: A Club Too Far?

Coming from a small city in West Sussex, my experience of clubbing has been limited. Nonetheless, coming to Birmingham was an eye-opening experience. If you are a student in Birmingham, there is a strong chance you have, either willingly or inadvertently visited Broad Street. It is a place where clubs fester and decisions are made on impulse, whether it’s to take a solo and expensive taxi ride home due to aching feet and a desire for sleep, or to make a drunken food purchase and consume chips in a manner that erases all traces of dignity.

Birmingham’s size as a city and its many universities mean that, there are a large variety of places to visit at night-time, ranging from the sleek and expensive to the grungy and grimy – all offering a different clubbing experience. The club  Risa holds a weekly ‘student night’ which is unsurprisingly invaded with students on a night-out. It’s cheap, cheesy fun and impossible to avoid bumping into someone you know. With multiple different rooms, fun-lovers can embrace the ‘rewind room’ which plays a constant loop of songs that wouldn’t be out of place at a wedding disco, all whilst its inhabitants dance on a light-up floor, a prospect that sounds dodgy, but surprisingly is complete, unabashed fun.

Beyond Broad Street clubs do seem to appear more alternative; Birmingham offers up The Jam House, a club endorsed by Jools Holland himself, which has live music and a dress code that ensures a level of smart, classic fun. The Jam House also hosts the event Itchy Feet which is popular with both students and members of the public, due to its nostalgic nature. There are also smaller pubs worth a visit for a different kind of evening; The Victoria offers an intimate atmosphere, with reasonably priced cocktails, live comedy and themed nights.

Club culture is undoubtedly dominant in Birmingham and their large variety of clubs on offer means that there is arguably something for everyone. As a large proportion of them actively cater towards students, it’s unsurprising that this form of socialising is so popular with undergraduates. Bliss holds the weekly student night ‘Stupid Tuesdays’ and other, smaller clubs also embrace the student customer. Snobs, a decidedly indie club, offers NUS card-holders discount on a Wednesday. As a student, therefore, going out during the week is oddly justifiable, due to the reduced prices and social aspect. This leaves Saturdays and Sundays as no longer days of play and rest, but those of reading and writing. If, of course, a student can balance this odd lifestyle then the backwards week can work out alright. However, when the opportunity to go out and dance is endless, there is the temptation to revisit the same places repeatedly, out of habit and desire for a cheaper night, leading to a lack of new experiences in the city. I find that when friends ask me what I think of Birmingham, I find myself with only an insight on the best clubs and the cheapest drinks. This has happened, because ‘going out’ is favoured by so many and lauded as the most ‘social’ aspect of university life. It can be argued, however, that going out can be oddly anti-social. There is the impossibility of having a conversation within a club (most consist of ‘WHAT?’ being asked repeatedly) and there is the difficulty of navigation within larger venues. Gatecrasher, for example, should hand out maps as trying to find a friend once inside is like navigating a maze or a labyrinth. Finally reaching said friend with a feeling of achievement is only dampened when they announce they want to leave and you realise you have spent most of the evening ‘finding people’.

Clubbing is pushed upon freshers as an integral part of the student lifestyle and freshers packs include a different club night for each evening of the week, which whilst is undoubtedly enjoyable, leaves a sad absence of more alternative nights. Clubbing is argued as a perfect way to unwind; however, when a worthy day of work hasn’t been achieved and the decision to go out overrules notions of study, it can be an unfulfilling experience.

Does clubbing encourage hedonism? Papers like the Daily Mail frequently report on pictures of students passed out on pavements, screaming anxieties of ‘Broken Britain’ and how students simply drink their loan away. There is a definite culture of drinking at any university, however, this element of student life is undoubtedly overblown, a stereotype enjoyed and perpetuated by the media to damn and critique society on a broader level. It can be argued, that the true nature of clubbing can only be judged when it is considered as to why a clubber drinks and goes out. Students may drink to forget, or to numb or ease feelings of stress, self-loathing or insecurity – like the media suggests.

However, there are other reasons why the culture of clubbing is so dominant within university life. Speaking to a friend, I was helped to realise my true feelings upon the subject as she explained what clubbing is to her: ‘Birmingham has so many clubs, so it’s hard to avoid going out, but I go clubbing because it’s fun. It’s excusable whilst I am young and as long as I am a student, I’m going to go out. It’s the perfect time to do so.’ Whilst I agree that Birmingham’s club culture should be enjoyed, it’s important to remember that there is life outside of Broad Street and it should be explored in order to fully experience Birmingham.

Words by Lottie Halstead

Hit the Ode (part 2)

Hit the Ode, a monthly spoken word event organised by West Midland’s Apples and Snakes, returned last Thursday to prove that this is an event going from strength to strength. This month’s collection of open mic and featured poets consistently bowled the audience over with their humour, lyricism and raw emotion. The Victoria provided a resplendent setting; the intimate nature and dimly-lit room providing an evocative background for words that were even more powerful.

For those who are now regulars, Bohdan Piasecki is as much a celebrity as the poets he introduces. As a compere and poet himself, his obvious passion for the spoken word excites even the most cynical of audience members. The room was the most filled it’s been yet – an apt reflection of the growing popularity of Birmingham’s spoken word scene.

Advertised as ‘an eclectic mix of styles, voices and languages’, the night fulfilled just that. As the name suggests, open mics in any setting are a gamble. Apart from one crude and mediocre poet overcome by misogynism, however, the poets that performed were as worthy of the stage as those paid to be there. ‘Carys Matic’, an English teacher based in South Korea, humorously recited a poem about British stereotypes she’s often been expected to play up to on her travels. Ben Norris, a Birmingham-based student, excellently explored the connections one experiences with lovers and Grandparents alike, providing a humbling contrast to the more raucous poetry of the evening.

The first featured poet was Paul Murphy. An established resident of Birmingham, he is most-recognised as lead singer and punk poet of the band The Destroyers. Sharing his good and bad experiences of life with rhythmic rhyme, his words flowed instinctively. As was often the case throughout the evening, the audience were continually lulled in with humorous anecdotes and then left reeling at the sagacious and sombre moments.

Vanessa Kisuule, a multiple slam winning poet from Bristol, was the next featured poet. Speaking to her after the event she said that shy writers should not be deterred from the spoken word scene, as poets often use performance to hide the fact they aren’t prolific writers. From her recital, however, it was clear that Kisuule does not fall into this category. Her beautifully crafted metaphors were brought alive by her performance. With poems such as Little Red Bow, her honest and humbling account of a vulnerable friend, and Sandwich, a comic tale of OCD and relationships, the audience were moved from laughter to tears and back again.

The final highlight of the evening was the performance of New York City poetry circuit veterans, Jon Sands and Ken Arkind. Reciting their work alternately, the poets covered topics from a brother’s marriage to his male partner, to the ramblings of a woman on a New York subway platform. They captivated with beat, music, and poetry that obviously was anything but superficial. Possibly the best Hit the Ode yet, the bar has definitely been raised. There is no doubt that as talent continues to emerge, Birmingham has not seen the last of nights like this.

The next Hit the Ode is on Thursday 29th March at 7.30pm.

Words by Elisha Owen

Related links:
Hit the Ode @ the Victoria (part 1)
Tell Me on a Sunday (part 1)
The Poets’ Place

Hit the Ode @ the Victoria (part 1)

Hit the Ode is a monthly spoken word poetry night at the Victoria, a pub tucked away just around the corner from New Street station. Consistently, this event presented by Apples and Snakes  proves to be moving, funny and an all round wonderful night. The performance poetry showcased at Hit the Ode really demands that people drop any school-yard preconceptions of poetry being dry or portentous. The evening’s fast paced series of open mic poets and featured acts is truly electrifying, with hilarious moments followed by startling pathos, contrasting flippantness and sentiment. All this combines to create a genuinely communal atmosphere in the room, as everyone experiences the emotional highs and lows of the poets’ words.

The upstairs bar at the Victoria is a dimly lit, intimate affair. There were perhaps 50 people crammed into the room, some standing or sitting around the walls due to a lack of chairs, whilst others listened in from the hallway. Bohdan Piasecki, a performance poet in his own right, was the compare for the evening, relaxing everybody with his wry humour and Polish accent. There was a great moment when he asked the audience to audibly convey ‘lust,’ and was met by three seconds of absolute silence…then laughter.

The open mic poets mostly read just one or two poems, moving the evening along at a brisk pace. One would expect the constant shifts in tone to be jarring, but the eclectic styles were actually welcome because the subject matter of some poems was particularly weighty – without some light relief the night could have been particularly intense and draining. For example, featured poet and Birmingham’s Poet Laureate Jan Watts read her new holocaust memorial poem Mirrors, a meditation on a passage from Anne Frank’s diary. It was beautiful and poignant, exploring how the mirror ‘holds a memory’ and questioning whether people have learned from history; ‘When did we last look in the mirror?’ Next, it was exciting to have a complete shift in gear to the young open mic poet Jess Green. She crystallised exactly what can be so thrilling about performance poetry with her breakup rant being alternately funny, cynical and sad. It was perhaps more akin to watching an actor’s piece or a soliloquy in a play.

The open mic poets were consistently impressive. Matt Windle, a young boxer, performed a snappy, rhythmic and incisive verse. Qasim Shah had a beautiful lilting delivery which disguised his dark sinister imagery (‘a field of lacerated veils,’) and Chris Hope was hilarious with his countless accents and satirical sonnets on the X-factor, McDonald’s and Argos. Featured poet Sue Brown had a graceful stage presence and her poems If You Were a Word and From Beorma to Birmingham used repetition to hypnotically beautiful effect.
It was another featured poet, Dani Orviz from Spain who closed the first half with an uplifting and visually stunning performance, with most of his poetry written in his native Spanish. In the hands of a lesser performer the language could have alienated most of the room, but Orviz ran animations and subtitles through a projector so the Spanish language became less of a barrier and seemed to be just yet another ingredient drawing us into his eccentric world. Spanish lends itself well to spoken poetry, its rhythmic polysyllables and magnetic rhymes make it a joy to listen to, especially alongside his beautiful animations of flickering cave paintings.

Final featured poet Luke Wright closed the evening with charm and panache. Initially, he had appeared to be a bouncer for the Victoria as he was stood by the door in his three piece suit, looking like Plan B. However, once on stage he had an easy going charisma and some brilliantly funny, affecting performance poetry up his sleeve. The Paunch!, an ode to the pot belly, was typical of his style, wittily irreverent throughout then closing in sharp, angry fashion ‘we line their pockets with our self-disgust.’

What makes Hit the Ode so vital is the genuinely sincere sense of goodwill towards the poets and communal atmosphere amongst the audience, something surprisingly rare to find even at music or comedy gigs. The subtle difference between politeness and empathy amongst strangers is outdone by the pure visceral emotional weight of the excellent poetry, making each of these nights unmissable.

The next Hit the Ode is on the 23rd of February.

Words by James Grady