Archive for May, 2008

Surface Unsigned: is not so grate achully


loldeidre gives her verdict on Surface Unsigned

Okay, so NOT a good week for Surface Unsigned. On Created in Birmingham, Danny Smith highlighted the fact that bands performing in their competition had to sell at least 25 tickets each in order to qualify for the next round, concluding that bands effectively had to pay to perform. Instead of entering the discussion, Surface Unsigned tried to put a stop to it, sending scary legal emails accusing Created in Birmingham of breach of copyright in reproducing a part of their contract.

Birmingham bloggers went nuts. Pete Ashton put out a call to arms, saying ‘you know what to do’, with a handy step by step guide for us novices that don’t. This was answered by the likes of Stef Lewandowski and Surface Unsigned ended up with shit all over their faces.

My favourite episode in the whole drama is Created in Birmingham, in order to avoid the supposed ‘breach of copyright’, translating the contract extract into LOLspeak. LOLspeak is a new revelation to me, which just goes to show how seriously behind the times I’m getting because ‘lolcat’ on Google comes up with thousands of images of fluffy animals saying cute things in this odd language. It’s like a cross between text, dyslexia and a 5 year old with a speech impediment. I love it and my own furry bundles of joy, Samson and Floss, are in grave danger of joining the trend.

By far the most bizarre, and therefore best example I’ve seen is loldeidre, Birmingham City Councillor Deidre Alden’s alter ego. Deidre Alden, like many suited executive types, is under the false impression that they are the most newsworthy thing about their work so must illustrate it with staged shots of them planting trees, cutting ribbons, reading residents’ association’s magazines with feigned delight, etc. The reason I like it so much is that I used to work in communications for a local housing association, so often found myself having a hand in staging this crap.

We had a cupboard full of photoshoot paraphernalia that housed matching small shiny spades, reams of wide ribbon, big posh scissors to cut it with, massive cheques (I always had the urge to fill one in and take it to the bank) and boxes and boxes of balloons to launch en masse into the sky.

Unfortunately I could never master getting the right helium levels in the balloons so they would pop within a half mile radius, littering the shiny new streets with deflated rubber attached to optimistic ‘Return to…’ tags. This meant for every balloon returned from further afield there was a correlating stamp in my passport. I must admit to a tinge of guilt when the local rag featured a picture of a smiling child proudly pointing to Paris on a map, where I’d just been for a lovely city break, but we had to have a photocall for the housing director and local politician sitting next to her.

Why is it Deidre and her ilk think this is the best form of publicity? The work they do, the people that thrive because of it, that’s what’s interesting. Not them, in their shiny suits, beaming next to uncomfortable looking, lesser mortals whilst pointing to a Newsworthy Object. Luckily the people behind loldeidre have done the only thing they could with Deidre Alden’s wealth of material and given her the personality of an over-eager primary school prefect.

Cult of Personality is for the mad and bad, and becomes just plain stupid when done on a small, localised scale. Mussolini was a big believer in it, and look what happened to him. However I just cannot bring myself to type a plea to end this madness. That would stop the whole joke, which it seems the more mischievous amongst us just can’t help expanding on.

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Boozing Blog

The Anchor

Photo by Tim Ellis

On Saturday The Guardian featured Kate Burt’s blog Save The Boozer, dedicated to pubs that offer ‘a slice of real British life, where real people still drink. Think dodgy jukeboxes, patterned carpet, photos of the Queen Mum pulling a pint…’

Save The Boozer rewards the best of Britain with STB Awards, which has categories such as The Ultimate Jukebox, The Terrifying Pub and The Sticky Carpet. What I love about Digbeth is it’s a great cluster of these places. For our last birthday me and Tone did a Digbeth Pub Crawl and fitting them all in was a difficult job, we even had to cull The Old Crown from our list. Digbeth should win an award in its own right. Sticky Village. Or something like that.

Anyway, here we are – the ten best boozers in Digbeth:

1. The Spotted Dog

Had to come first by virtue of its rebel landlord John Tighe and his fight against the Noise Abatement Order. John is assisted by his harem of beautiful young barmaids, all carefully chosen to appease the older male clientele. The bar feels as homely as your living room whilst the spacious back garden hosts family parties and the like. It also has a great live music line-up. I never could have imagined The Pogues sung in the style of Johnny Cash by a guy with a head like a baked bean, but now I know. Dir-ty-old-tow-nnn…..

2. The Lamp Tavern

A compact and cosy pub with a lot of lamps. This was the culmination of me and Tone’s pub crawl and we didn’t get out until sunrise. Landlord Eddie seemed to be in a race with us to drink the stock dry. If he takes a shine to you he’ll invite you upstairs to “share the cot”. I somehow resisted. The Lamp Tavern is the regular home of Friction Arts’ Pub Conversations.

3. The Big Bull’s Head

Had to miss this off the pub crawl because a fight broke out in the back bar. As I’ve mentioned before, does great grub for very reasonable prices. I’m not sure if they still do it, but they used to have a He Man’s Grill that consisted of what seemed to be a plate of fried meat (steak, sausage, bacon, etc.) with a separate bowl of chips and beans. Typing about it makes my mouth water with hunger and nausea at the same time.

4. The White Swan

A lovely pub with a large, long front bar and nice back lounges, it’s one of the few older pubs where recent ‘improvements’ have not meant the opposite. The last time I was there in the evening following a Birmingham City home match so it was crowded with loudly slurred arguments, declarations of love and an elderly couple who, despite being very unsteady on their feet, were still managing to chew each other’s faces off. Who said romance was dead?

5. The Anchor

The place to go for real ale in Digbeth. A great big pub with four rooms surrounding the bar in the centre, so has lots of nooks and corners for drinking, chatting and snuggling, with a new outside patio for smoking.

6. The Woodsman

This one’s off the beaten track on the other side of Digbeth near the Millennium Point. When I was last there the traditional old pub style was wonderfully mismatched by a DJ playing deafening, thumping hard house. I didn’t know whether to buy a round or get the pills in.

7. Cleary’s

Bit of an obituary this, as it sadly closed in January. A small and snug place on Cheapside. Every weekend it would have a bad loud disco for young ones to get down and get off to, which was inevitably popular.

8. The Adam and Eve

Another good live music venue with bands that range from blues to rock to acoustic. Visit their website if only to play their keyboard of a navigation bar. Kept me amused for hours.

9. The Market Tavern

Yet another obituary and proof that Save The Boozer really has its work cut out in trying to save ‘a fast disappearing breed’. Rumour has it the owners plan to turn this former lively punk venue into a gastro pub. Which is a pity, as it would have been a worthy contender for Boozer Bogs of the Year Award. Not to put too fine a point on it, they fucking stank.

10. The Fountain Inn

Not one of my haunts as this old man’s drinking hole comes under the category Terrifying Pub. But makes the list thanks to West Midlands Police, who mistook it for another The Fountain Inn, Wrentham Street, ‘one of Birmingham’s busiest gay bars catering to skins, bears, daddies, scallies and leather & denim guys’. I’d love to have been there when the police raided The Fountain Inn, Cheapside and accused the Irish bar of dealing in drugs and gay porn. Feckin’ ace.

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Discover Digbeth

Photo of Polish Millennium Centre by Pete Ashton

You probably think all there is to do in Digbeth is drink Guinness and view luxury show apartments but yeah, that’s right, you’re wrong. With fun-packed weeks like this to be had, there’s no excuse to be sitting around your new-build flat getting fat on Stirchley Bacon.

The Monday before last I got to see Roger Shannon, Executive Producer of I Could Read The Sky, introduce this gorgeous film in The Spotted Dog. Author Dermot Healy plays an elderly Irish ex-labourer immigrant who pads about his pokey bedsit, remembering his tough life whilst he waits for it to end. It sounds really depressing and it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs but it was beautiful. Poignant memories are shot in what look like sepia super-eights and jump drowsily back and forth and back again like a lovely, confused dream. It isn’t an easy watch but well worth it. Director Nicola Bruce put a soft feminine touch on a very harsh male experience and a story that if told by anyone else would be embittered was turned into something strangely soothing.

Gerald was sorry to have missed it, but was otherwise engaged teaching his weekly Irish language classes at The Irish Club. I never knew CRAIC was an acronym. You learn something new every day. Luckily he never misses the Irish music nights on alternate Mondays at The Spotted Dog as they start just as he finishes.

On Tuesdays get up and get down with ACE dance and music’s open African dance classes for adults. It’s really fun and, because traditional African dance seems to involve a lot of squatting and lower body stance, should be good for your bums and tums. It certainly felt like it was the next day. Ouch.

ACE dance and music also have a programme of dance activities for ages 2 and upwards – see their website for details.

On the first Wednesday of each month the Irish Heritage Group meet at The Irish Centre. I must admit to missing more of these than I should because I’m lame but they seem to have a very interesting programme of talks and events for every month and do a mean Christmas quiz, where I won some utterly disgusting alcoholic chocolates.

The Custard Factory – we all know it’s there but it’s worth mentioning. At the tail-end of the week I find it hard to pass Rooty Frooty’s in the morning without popping in for a coffee, which is like rocket fuel. And if that doesn’t perk you up, everyone’s favourite barman Rod certainly will.

Last Friday I tried out Polish folk dancing at the Polish Millennium Centre. It turned out to be mainly teenagers doing it but if you’re between 11-19 and fancy discovering Polish culture through song and dance then it’s great. A lot of the young people were second or third generation Poles and Wiesniacy are doing a good job of carrying the Polish language and culture forward. You can see the group perform next year at the Polish Folklore Festival in Symphony Hall next February.

I’m glad I went as I got to discover what a great secret the Polish Millennium Centre is. If you spend more than £7 in the restaurant you get a free beer, who can say fairer than that?

If your dancing tastes lie a little further west then St Anne’s Community Centre host very a popular salsa night every Friday, where you can learn and practice some latin moves in a relaxed atmosphere.

Hang out at The Edge on Cheapside from 3pm. I love Friction Arts, in an age when the arts are becoming structured there’s something wonderfully anarchic about them that hints at smashing it all up for some chaotic creativity.

St Anne’s is a lovely little church for mass on a Sunday morning, if you’re that way inclined. And instead of a polite tinkle the priest’s entrance is marked by a doorbell’s ding-dong.

If you’re hungry after that nip to The Big Bull’s Head, one of the few places where you can get a three-course roast dinner washed down by a pint and still have change from a tenner. Rumour has it that if you manage to finish their hearty (or is that heart attack?) He Man’s Grill you get to ring the bar’s bell to a round of applause from the punters.

So there you have it, discover Digbeth and you’ll end up smarter, fitter and multi-lingual. If you hurry you might get lucky and bag a new apartment.

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