Silence the trumpets and with muffled drum

We love to send Danny Smith into the heart of the action. The big heart , obviously. But this time he’s sent himself. Here are some direct live What’s Apps from up town, where he’s now wrangling kids for the day job.

Elgar, the violinist from Worcester, yesterday.

[9:02 am, 29/07/2022] Danny Smith: Being in town is weird, uncomfortable… This is exactly how I felt when Diana died… Everybody caring so much and me not giving a solitary shit… Civic pride is odd, what have we actually got to be proud of? The same bars and restaurants as every other major city… Highest portion of kids on free school meals (Northfield)… Knife violence… Homelessness… University’s that have essential priced out local students and now are funded by foreign students? I’m tired of celebrating how mediocre we are… Great things happen in Birmingham despite of the city and these should be celebrated like any flower that can grow between the cracks in concrete.

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Jobs Not Fair

We fancied getting a real insider’s view of the Commonwealth Games, so we suggested our Contributing Editor get in there. After failing to qualify for anything he had to get a day job, and then not give it up.

Elmore Leonard once advised that you should start a book by describing the weather, but fuck him, I’ll start what I want any which way I want.  The weather Friday was grey, not necessarily overcast, not not anything, a void of a day, rain that was that spiteful invisible mist I’ve only ever experienced in Birmingham. I literally woke up screaming the night before but despite all that I was feeling good. 

The city centre these days seems smaller, blander. More like a place that people seem to be traveling through rather than arriving. Maybe there is less in it now that I want to see, or maybe the chain stores and brands just get folded on top of each other in my head to save space. There’s a lot of building work finished or in the process of finishing, between the paving slabs you can still see the sand that escaped the appetencies’ broom. It all has the furtive hurried air of someone who’s changed the sheets in case the date goes well.

The library opens earlier but at ten minutes to eleven there is a smatter of people waiting for the upper levels to open, there is a standing flag for the Jobs Fair with a man in a suit directing people. I’m here mostly because the Jon’s banged their fists on the desk and demanded “get me Commonwealth content”, but it was also suggested I go at the last appointment at the jobcentre. As I’m early I head on down to the “Book Browse” and, well, browse the books. Come eleven, I’m directed to the elevators, I head up the escalators, the man in the suit stops me

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Music promoters have hitherto only interpreted Birmingham in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Danny went to speak to someone who thinks the new boss doesn’t have to be the same as the old boss, it can be a democratically elected representative of an autonomous collective. 

There is a spectre haunting this interview – the spectre of Birmingham Promoters. 

A few years ago, when most people at gigs had never washed their hands, Birmingham Promoters had a near monopoly of smaller gigs in some of our best venues.

Then came the Brum music scene’s rejection of the man running it; called out publicly for misogyny and sexual assault back in 2021, after the rumours and whispered warnings from victims and friends to other women finally got heard. Since then, Birmingham Promoters has scrubbed its presence off the internet, its not clear they or the company (BPL Events LTD) has been doing or whether they actually received the £115,759 granted to them by the Cultural Recovery Fund. Birmingham Promoters seems to be more gone than the R-rate. 

Now that we’re pretending the pandemic is over and the music scene in Birmingham begins to brush itself off, get its hands dirty, and get back to its feet, you have to wonder who will fill the gap. Mark Roberts says he has part of the solution. 

Seeing advertisements for Birmingham Co-Operative Promoters and their inaugural event The Fully Automated Luxury Space Communism Party I knew I had to speak to him. Mark arrives on time and instantly buys me a drink. Tall and slender he suits the vintage vibe he gives off, the maroon leather jacket matching his deep red Dr Martens, despite looking like a hippy, he politely asserts his turn at the bar when the bartender asks ‘who’s next’ in a situation many would demurely acquiesce.

During the interview he is animated and eloquent and sometimes leans down towards the recorder when he wants to talk to you, the reader directly.

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Hi, wire acts

There are eight million stories in the naked city. Danny Smith is always up for naked stories, so we sent him to the city. Turns out that this particular Commonwealth Games launch didn’t have any of the nudey volleyball. 

The couple behind me have been talking since I arrived. Their accent is a cut glass received pronunciation I associate with a old flat mate from Kent, who would need putting to bed after two glasses of wine and once offered me money to wash his work clothes because he didn’t know how and did not want to learn. It’s getting close to seven and the full moon hangs in the sky with a buttery soft light that, coupled with the crowd’s excitement, adds to the atmosphere. The crowd is mostly families, a solid block of expensive walking anoraks and friendly dad beards.

Tonight is the start of the Birmingham Festival 2022, a nebulous collection of art events being held by organisations with the patience and resources to get through the byzantine application process. Tonight is acting as the beginning of the Commonwealth Games apart from the multiple ‘countdown beginning’ and other photo opportunities

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Welcome to Freedonia

Mask on, gloves off. As covid restrictions drop, and we head into ‘normal’ (whatever that is), we wanted to see if normal was, normal. We sent our ‘normal’ correspondent Danny Smith to see if the pubs are on track, or lost without trace.  We did not pay him billions of pounds. 

In the 1933 film Duck Soup an incompetent huckster becomes leader of a tiny country through borrowed wealth and inherited money and proceeds to bumble it into war and potential ruin.

Why mention that? 

No reason.

Welcome to ‘Freedom Day’ where the only thing stopping you acting exactly how you want is common decency, and to paraphrase Voltaire – common decency ain’t that common. 

a pub door with two posters 'Long Live Local' and 'We're Closed'
Long Live The Local

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – The Book – Buy Now

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. We lay out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

We’ve compiled 50 of the biggest things, places, people and feelings that delight us about the second city. Jon Bounds, Jon Hickman and Danny Smith will take you down Dale End and up The Ackers. If you want to find out more about Aston Villa’s sarcastic advertising hoarding, the Camp Hill Flyover, or even come with us on a journey up the M6 and find out why all of our hearts leap when we see Fort Dunlop, then come, meet us at the ramp.

Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — 50 Thing That Delight About Brum

Foreword by Adrian Chiles,  cover by Foka Wolf

Out Now, Buy Here  >>

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 99: Gynaecology

I can’t speak for other social strata or areas, but in a working class home in Birmingham if you ever start a sentence “I’m not a…” Dads in other rooms will bound over furniture and push small children out of the way to run in and say “I’m not a gynaecologist, but I’ll have a look,” and then walk away with a giant shit-eating grin.

As well they might if they knew of long time resident of Birmingham Lawson Tait. Lawson is known for a few things: his strong anti-vivisection views, his demonstrating the link between cleanliness and mortality rates before the theory was generally accepted, but, maybe most famously, he is known as one of the fathers of modern gynaecology. Lawson, born Robert Lawson, is responsible for pioneering a bunch of lifesaving lady bits operations and kick-started a field of medicine that has kept women healthy ‘down there’ ever since. Any friend of the vulva is a friend of mine.

He was also responsible for the appendectomy, so if you ever had to have a few weeks off school and got to eat ice cream to recover, you have Lawson to thank. Wait, that could be tonsils? Who knows? I’m not an otolaryngologist… but I’ll have a look

No, that doesn’t work.

Danny Smith: Inn Dependance day

A pint without the boys in a pub full of not much noise because loudness increases the chances of shouting and more droplets of virus in the air. Is that living alright? We send Danny Smith, the canary in our covid coal mine, into town as pubs open their doors for the first time in god knows how long. Will he get irate about the R-rate?

I’m in a Wetherspoons and things are not going well. In the Before Times being in a Wetherspoons was usually a pretty good indicator of how well things were going in general. The binary state of being in or out of a Wetherspoons nearly always correlates to ‘not so great’ and ‘going well’. But now, on this historic day? It’s both a historic and personal failure – and there’s a sheet of paper here with evidence.

To be honest it didn’t start well. I was dropped off on the Smallbrook Queensway and the first thing I see is Snobs with its windows boarded up*. It’s a sobering sight – literally – but also like the ravens of the Tower of London, if Snobs ever closes for good Birmingham falls. There is no reopening sign on the boards, just a note directing deliveries to next door.

Heading south I see the Old Fox has had a refurbishment and somehow earnt the qualifier “sly” into its name. It’s closed too, which is probably how it earned its new name. Opposite, the Hippodrome lies dormant. Stripped of the livery of show posters and lights it looks corporate and dead. As I write this the entertainment industry has still yet to receive any support from the government despite it hugely important to both the financial and emotional well being of the country. Some cunts need their names up in lights so people know who’s to blame.

The Dragon Inn is a Wetherspoons and this early in the day I was reluctant to go in. I’m here in town to cover the opening of Birmingham pubs after over 100 days closed, the longest enforced closing of public houses in this country since, well, ever. Given, the founder of The Wetherspoons chain, Tim Martin’s close ties to the government and headlines at the start of the lockdown, it’d be impossible to talk about pubs reopening without going to one, but not my first one, and not here. Before it was a ‘spoons, the Dragon Inn was an O’Neill’s, an O’Neill’s I worked at four two years before it closed. I worked the last shift: good memories dust my mind like fresh snow and are too dear to me to sully them with that ruddy faced scarecrow’s dirt wellingtons.

The bars in the Arcadian are all closed and my thoughts flash to all the lower division footballers and dental technicians sitting at home on Saturday night bereft of places to sell them mid-range wine and forgettable cocktails.

OK, I thought, I’ll start at the Bull Ring Tavern, a place notorious for being where nights end, not start. Often maligned for the perceived quality of its patrons, I’ve always found it nothing if not friendly. And the clientele is self editing: the sort of person that drinks there is the sort of person that doesn’t care about what type of person people think drink there (if you see what I mean). So it’s devoid of lower tier footballers and dental technicians.

As I get close a woman with a high ponytail, smoking over the top of a disposable face-mask, dramatically sidesteps in front of the door: “We’re full love” she says, and I become the only person in history to be knocked back from The Bull Ring Tavern**.

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Danny Smith: Non-essential

Something something largest unsafe reopening of a Primark in Europe. We sent Danny Smith to die for capitalism. 

Her voice is mournful, an acapella lament closer to a wail than a dirge. I don’t speak the language but it vibrates with loss and a pleading sorrow. The lady has lines on her face chiseled in by the pain in her voice. She’s wearing a hijab and blue nitrile gloves. Another glove is stretched over the McDonald’s cup she is collecting money in. The cup sits in front of the empty crate she is sitting on, head back to allow the long notes of fragile misery to escape her body.

Opposite the queue for Poundland trails down the street in impossible perspective like an Escher print.

During the last three months I think we’ve all had the fantasy of when lockdown ends, a shared utopian vision of happiness in the streets, greeting our neighbours and strangers with warm hugs and handshakes. Sunlit pub gardens full of smiles, and cider with ice in.
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Deep Impact?

We last visited Digbeth’s Impact Hub as it launched a few years ago when hardly anyone knew what it was, and those that had a little bit of a handle thought the claims being made for it were outlandish and dismissive of the existing spaces and activists in Birmingham. Despite that – and may be very much because of that ambition – it has grown into a space that is one of the building blocks of what might be termed a revival of Brum’s thinking social-conscious. And now it’s gone. 

Danny Smith went back to talk to driving-force Immy Kaur to find out what’s next and talked to her for a long time…

I arrive a little early and Immy is having lunch with a bunch of people at a big table near the kitchen area. Even while eating she is talking about the breakdown of the site, I get the impression that she never really stops. The people around the table all are unconsciously deferring to her, and I mention it although I know she’ll hate me for noticing.

Last time we talked I mentioned the bells she wears on a bangle around her wrist, I notice she’s wearing them today too. She must be both busy and stressed. The Impact Hub has been running for five years and has now been hit with a huge bill to vacate the premises they spent a fortune turning into the friendly industrial space it is today.

Did you wear the bells especially?

No, someone tweeted at me the other day – in response to your blog post – that they hadn’t heard them on me for a few weeks. Because I’ve been running into work everyday. When I run they bang on my arm and hurt me so I’ve been taking them off, and I got my running bag and took them out and put them back on.

 

So, Impact Hub: why is it closing?

Two main reasons: one is that it’s getting too expensive in Digbeth… 

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