Danny Smith: The A38 killed my dog

Like a bad penny, licked and then pushed quickly into a chip shop slot machine, Danny Smith returns to Birmingham. Delighted to have him back, we wanted him to stay in Northfield, its streets his alma mater and tell us all about it. The first thing he did was get the bus out.

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city.

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I’m on a bus in Northfield, it’s Saturday: so it’s full, and only getting fuller. Only the people getting on seem to confused by the whole bus business and are approaching it with the time consuming trepidation of first-time flyers on a steampunk zeppelin. The bus is waiting for an usually long time.

Luckily buses now have TV monitors and cameras so, if you do get mugged, you get to take home the footage. CCTV just blurry enough for it to be of no use, apart from to bring back the lovely traumatic memories, like photos of a ride at Drayton Manor.
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Subterranean, homesick, Blues (although we don’t think he goes down much)

We sent Danny Smith down the re-opened Costermongers, Brum’s finest underground alternative drinking hole near a market, because he was going anyway. 

The weather today isn’t really weather just an unremarkable middle ground between everything. Spring is the ultimate liminal season. Probably best to put your head down and plough through till summer.

I’m in Birmingham and my feet have already began taking me to Costers, like there are ruts in the road. No conscious decision, like the newly reopened pub is the bottom of a steep hill.

The door is ajar and a sign proclaims “WE ARE OPEN!” as if the sign itself can’t believe it either. But the dark dark staircase still leads to the dark dark door and behind the dark dark door is two people behind the same old bar. A six foot viking type a couple of stone away from being intimidating and a vaguely familiar girl with a slightly grown out undercut and a comfortable hoodie. The guy had definitely spent more time on his look today. They continue their conversation somewhat performatively and I oblige them with a tip of the tongue blank the viking was having. (‘Westlife’ btw). They hand me Export I have no recollection of ordering, and in fact distinctly remember vowing never to drink it ever again. Time will make a liar of us all.

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#Savetheflapper save our souls

“I curse any nights sleep in these flats to be ruined by the ghosts of a thousand lost nights of noise and lights and friends.”

The beautiful darkness inside the Flapper captured on a bright day.

Either you die a mouthy prick who gets barred for throwing the garden furniture into the canal, or you live long enough to see your city turn into a nameless suburb of Blandtopia. I’m drinking in the Flapper steeling myself for another bitter goodbye.

Me and the flapper have history, serious history. I remember being ten on a school trip to the canals in Birmingham. As a class we walked past and I remember the yellow building with arcade games in the window (it was a Firkin pub back then). I asked my teacher, Mr Goode, if we could go in and he just laughed. Possibly because even back then he could see the type of person I’d become. I remember because it was the only thing that day that I saw that I gave even half a shit about. Honestly, when it comes to the canals in town, it still is.

As a late teenager it was always a straight choice between Exposure and the Foundry then after, Eddies or XL’s. But on sunny days. No question, The Flapper. One of your mate’s shitty bands playing? The Flapper. Getting ID’d everywhere? The Flapper will definitely serve you.

But it’s going. It’ll go down swinging. But it’s going. BCC owns the freehold so could still block it but Birmingham city, partly through lack of funding, but mostly due its own incompetence, is skint. Birmingham City Council is a beaten dog with no master, cowering at anyone wielding a big enough moneystick. So poor it had to reach into its chest and pull out its very heart and sell it to developers for pennies. I’ll never forgive them for the loss of Central Library. And if they can’t see the value of a world famous historically significant and loved landmark, what chance does a pub the arse end of town stand? It’s worth fighting though. Sign the petition, show your support. Even if it is to show the developer wrong who said “All those people who come to defend that pub are like someone who’s got an old banger parked outside their house, and starts screaming when it gets keyed”.

The developers, Whitehorse Estates Ltd, claim the resulting block of flats will be addressing the badly needed housing shortage by offering two bedroom apartments for “young families and first time buyers” but similar properties in the area go for around 200k. I’m wondering who these first time buyers are. Maybe they’re the ‘london professionals’ we hear about in that article that the broadsheets write now and again. My favourite quote in the above linked article is from the developers describing a three metre wall as a “forgotten space” and a “den of iniquity of drugs and prostitution”. A three metre wall.

He also downplays its musical significance, but how many small venues are there left in Birmingham city centre? Two? Three? You don’t get big bands without small bands, and you don’t get small bands if there’s nowhere to play. Here’s the thing – when you chase all the artists, weirdos, musicians, punks, freaks, goths, and kids away they don’t come back. And all the vibrancy and excitement that drew people here in the first place disappears with them. Then the city becomes a Wetherspoons version of a city, sure it has all the features of the thing it’s replacing and certainly isn’t short of people there pretending it is, but the atmosphere will only ever swing between boredom to desperation and nobody will ever be proud of being there.

The Flapper is worth saving. I’ll say that again. THE FLAPPER IS WORTH SAVING. Every time I come back to Birmingham it’s a little more sterile. Another ‘flagship’ store has opened and another place with character, history, or heart has gone. Culture grows in the cracks and soon they’ll be nowhere left. Birmingham will be just another theme park to Mammon, a heartless temple of glass and brushed aluminium indistinguishable from the next city.

So fuck you Capitalism, double fuck you the cowards at Birmingham City Council, and triple fuck you Whitehorse Estates Ltd.

I fucking curse this ground. I curse any ‘cheeky’ glass of wine on your balconies to taste of cheap beer left in the sun. I curse any nights sleep to be ruined by the ghosts of a thousand lost nights of noise and lights and friends. And I curse your view never to be as beautiful as a summer afternoon with friends in the sun but only of a bland sprawling metropolis of cookie cutter developments occupied by wankers.

And people of Birmingham now more than ever we’re standing in front of a tidal wave of conformity and indifference. Keep being weird, keep being kind, and keep being you.


Goodbye Pavilions*

Really, nobody gives a fuck. Today it’s a empty space, a ghost town, but has it really been anything more? Does anybody have any fond memories of the place? Devoid of shops you can see the artless early nineties post-modern design, which looks a lot like the pastel flourishes of late eighties blandness. Even the Evening Mail’s frothing gang of wow merchants can’t summon the energy to care in this hilariously empty “news” article.

Six years ago I’m at a public exhibition speaking to an Argent representative about the redevelopment of the Central Library, they’re pretty vague but they’re talking about turning the whole area into their other achievement Brindleyplace and the Gas St Basin. I swear for a little bit, and leave.

Recently it’s been used as a shortcut to the bus stops opposite Moor St and a place for the bus drivers to eat their lunch. My fondest memory was an art installation that used some of the empty units a few years ago. Culture in the gaps.

past times

My good friend wrote “Capitalism disappoints” and stripped of the shops the Pavilions echos with emptiness and exposes this disappointment. Places like this aren’t built for anyone to like they’re built so not to offend, mixed use developments and the such are tin crowns waiting for the cubic zirconia of retail ”experiences”. And they’re spreading. Costume jewellery for a beauty contest where we aspire for second place.

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Signing off

Danny Smith has been writing for us, in all our forms, for as long as we can remember.  He’s a blue-haired gonzo with a habit of going misty-eyed over cute kids, and having a red mist descend when seeing how privilege fucks those same kids over. In prose he can find the mould in the corners of even the most ‘laughing with canal-side salad’ press event. So much so that we as editors have a stock response to anything we don’t want to go to: “Send Danny.” But now he’s sending himself…

CC: vexsmila
Dead to us – Image CC: vexsmila

My life seems to be a series of leaving parties, that is to say I seem to leave a lot but never really arrive anywhere. But soon I leave Birmingham, perhaps never to live here again. It’s a good ol’ city, mismanaged on the whole but full of good people, funny people, mad creative, eccentric people, people of a sharp wit but kind tongue.

I have to admit this very nearly was a wry ‘Things I WON’T Miss About Birmingham.’ But I’ve mellowed as I’ve got older. I could write that article and light my way to Brighton with the bridges I’ve burnt behind me but we all know the city’s faults and it’s not that “we don’t shout about ourselves more”. In fact some honest reviews and critique would be a cool breeze in an atmosphere of twee stifling press releases rewritten for CoolBrum™ listicles and breathless praise .

As I said I’m not here to shake any trees, just to point out some peaches.

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Pier Review: an exclusive extract


Longtime Paradise Circus-ers Jon Bounds and Danny Smith visited every surviving pleasure pier in England and Wales, in two weeks. And then wrote a book about it: Pier Review. Brum’s own Catherine O’Flynn says, “Humour, nostalgia and a certain landlocked romanticism run through this coastal odyssey. Pier Review is an engaging and highly revealing sideways look at Britain from the margins.” 

We say have a look yourself in our exclusive extract. Join the guys, Danny first, in Swanage:


Looking around Swanage town we are overwhelmed with the food choices. I suggest the Wimpy we walk past. Wimpy was the English burger bar that existed in this country before McDonald’s. I honestly thought they had all closed and can’t think of a better metaphor for a dying English culture than eating in a now nearly defunct chain hamburger shop.

‘I’m not eating in a fucking Wimpy,’ Midge says flatly. Granted, he hasn’t eaten much in the last three days and is probably
looking forward to an actual meal.

‘Come on, it’s perfect, look,’ I say, gesturing to the menu of food that all looks terrible.

‘Definitely not, no.’ Midge storms away.

Jon shrugs, his apathy for food balancing almost neatly with his love of obscure British brands.

Wimpy made it from America to England 20 years before McDonald’s and quickly spread to India, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. It was the only game in town as far as chain restaurants or American-style dining was concerned. From my youth I remember a mascot that consisted of a hamburger dressed as a Beefeater (and I half remember a Spectrum computer game starring the squat tower warden).

Even back then Wimpy had been erroneously marginalised as an English knock-off of McDonald’s glamorous authenticity. Since then, you still see them around the country, cowering in service stations like beaten dogs or looking confused on some backwater high street, sticking out like a pensioner wearing their slippers to the post office. The most English thing about Wimpy is not the table service that they seem to have a child-like stubbornness in keeping, but their tenacity to stick around, refusing to believe in defeat because of their once brief but almost worldwide dominance.

We head into town, make a circuit of the eateries, and choose to eat dry fish and chips. Due to some complicated system we manage to confuse the waitress enough for her to bring cans of cider we haven’t ordered. We obviously look like the cider-before-lunchtime types. We eat quietly, drinking ginger beer, aware perhaps that we’ve snagged the best table in the restaurant. There are regulars, old guys and gals on permanent vacation, or those who quickly gain a routine while on holiday, who want the table. It’s the one with the sea view. We have our heads down, writing. The table is fairly silent. I exchange a few Internet messages and think of the people I’m missing. Of people back in Birmingham essentially. Heinz sauces will do that to me. I squeeze some red out over my chips and feel guilty.

Nothing is as English as Heinz ketchup in the sauce game, except perhaps HP. The HP bottle really is iconic – the round-cornered square, the unusual colour and the name that has nothing to do with the taste. It’s from a time before modern marketing, much like large parts of Swanage.

postcard to birmingham

I went to school within smelling distance of the HP factory in Birmingham. On a day when the wind blew from Aston Cross towards the park, you could feel the tang of molasses in your nostrils. I used to swear I could tell whether it was original, fruity or curry flavour production that day. The illuminated HP sign shone like the chip-shop equivalent of the bat signal, except this one shone across the M6 as opposed to the rooftops of Gotham City; it meant you were home. We won’t see it when we complete our trip, as it’s been taken away. The factory closed and production moved to a cheaper facility in Holland, despite Heinz saying that they’d do no such thing when they took over the local company that had been making HP sauce for decades. The demolished site is now being rebuilt as a modern factory, with the usual mixed-use plans for a hotel alongside. Like many a modern building, it seemed to go up too quickly to have a lasting impact; construction without toil seems so temporary. The HP sign is in the storage warehouse of the local museum, the brand’s association with a place now historical and intangible.

‘Jon, have you noticed we’re getting stared at?’ I say loudly,hoping the other patrons get the hint.

‘It’s probably the jacket,’ says Jon, once again referring to the thin bin-liner bomber jacket he’s wearing. Despite its complete lack of practical value he hasn’t taken it off since we left Birmingham. ‘It was designed by Paul Weller for Liam
Gallagher’s fashion label, thus making it the most mod piece of clothing ever created.’

‘Both Paul Weller and Liam Gallagher are fucking pricks, though, Jon. You’re wearing a prick’s coat.’

Jon looks hurt briefly then shrugs. Midge shoots me a look and I’m suddenly aware of the numerous pairs of eyes on me from the other people in the chippy, mostly elderly with either raised bushy eyebrows or jowl-wobbling heads. I try to look sorry but then shrug as well.

I haven’t bought Heinz products since that day; there’s no orchestrated campaign, I just feel uneasy. Little choices that we can all make, little remembrances of things past. Forget the fossils in the museum opposite, forget King Arthur, forget the ‘Ralph Coates museum’ that I can’t believe exists but am sure I saw a sign for. The reminders of history are all around us. And reminders of the present too. There’s a piece of Banksy graffiti near where we get back into the piermobile. The sauce signal is calling us onward.


If you fancy following what happened next, Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside is out now.

Outsiders: back with a vengeance

I’m here in a new bar, but it’s an old bar. The bar that was here before is old and gone, the new old bar is a lot like a bar that used to be in its place years and years ago. It’s dark and humid but the walls are yet to condense into sweat. I’m here as a homecoming, or at least to test a theory about home. Maybe home isn’t a specific place, maybe home is wherever you hang up who you think you are and stretch into the person that your skin hangs on.

So I’m here with the freaks, long hair, short skirts, denim, one-eyed, leather, awkward, coloured hair crowd. The music is loud and the drums rattle through the new sound system like fireworks in a metal bin. I’m ill and achey, but I have a writing problem, the drinks are cheap and it’s my favourite crowd to be alone in.

“We’re back home!” someone shouts, I wish they hadn’t. It kind of steps on the point of this article and sounds hack and untrue, but they do. And anyway, it is kind of home, if not here where else?

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Meet the new Bore, same as the old Bore

I have an obsessive nature – not addictive, thank god – but definitely obsessive. Whenever I am reminded of 1976 classic Carrie the voices echo about my brain for days. I have spent hours researching Michigan J. Frog (the frog in the cartoon that only dances for one man until it drives him mad) Did you you know he had a name? I did, because I have thought about him about three times a day for the last ten or so years. That’s more than some people think about their god.

This obsessive nature means that I stay away from certain things, things that tickle my pleasure centres in that special way that be it in a dangerous life destroying way like gambling or hard drugs that could have me out doing unspeakable things and burning bridges, or smaller things, hobbies or small chunks of pop culture that could have me memorising league tables and waiting for Saturday match day.

I’ve never been bothered by football, but politics does it for me. The Venn diagram where ideals, manipulation, and power overlap, that flicks my switch. Like a 4D chess game crossed with a soap opera with a cast of the worst people in the world. Which is why I stay away, I dabble, much like the casual football fan I’ll follow the big matches but at a local level not so much. I’m just not prepared to put in the work of crushing banality that local politics is made up of.

So when I was asked to cover the hustings for the leader of Birmingham City Council I was hesitant. Normally I only get sent to things that either of the Jons don’t mind getting banned from. But I went. And it was as boring as I thought it would be. One of the things that’s clear is that despite being the being the biggest local authority in England, being its head affords you very little power. In fact it seems the whole machinery of the local council is powerless, with its committees, sub-committees, panels, boards and commissions, all layered on top of each other and threaded together like a cake made by a boring drunk spider.

So on a rainy Thursday evening I found myself at the CBSO. Looking around the room, I felt a bit out of place, my hair is a weird pink colour, but it wasn’t just that my hair was pink, it was that my hair had any colour at all. The crowd were made up of mostly middle aged white people. The people of colour I did spot were Labour councillors themselves so don’t count.

Oh Gawd, what will Danny do next?

Hate the German market? Buy a candle and shut the fuck up


People complaining about people complaining that Christmas gets earlier every year gets earlier every year doesn’t it? And as well they might, it seems the only thing stopping the lights going up as soon as the kids go back to school is Halloween.

One of the biggest proponents of this christmas creep in Birmingham is the Frankfurt Market, known locally as the ‘German Market’ the ‘Christmas market’ or just ‘the market’ by most of Birmingham who seem to unwilling to split hairs at that point but will delight in telling you that most of the people that work there are “Polish anyway”. The Market has been a fixture of Birmingham since 2001 and time was you couldn’t say a word against it without being labelled as a grinch the equivalent of a 60ft mecha-Scrooge with orphan-killing eye lasers. Of course I publicly coated it off every chance I could get.

But recently people have started grumbling, the odd bad sausage here, the occasional commuter gripe there. So taking advantage of Twitter’s new ‘poll’ function I asked the public.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 75: Batman

I’m the goddamn Batman
Jim Lee: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder no.1

Jim Lee: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder no.1

Why claim Batman?

Birmingham isn’t short of its own, real, superheroes after all. The Statesman is a Bromsgrove bank clerk by day and at night prowls the city in mask and ever-so-slightly too tight T-shirt ready to thwart drunks and burglars. Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of peace and hope all over the world with a seeming immunity to bullets. And Birmingham’s Lunar Society were a team-up of some of the country’s greatest free thinkers, geniuses, and crusaders for equality.

So, why claim Batman?


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