Paradise Circus Live – full live show

Like an old Monty Python cash-in LP: for lockdown listening the full live show the Paradise Circus troupe did at the mac a little while back. 90 mins of hyperlocal satire now available to listen to in your home.

If you enjoy it, please bung a little something to Brum Baby Bank. Oh, and you can buy our book, which has more of (in some cases exactly) the same.

Paradise Circus Live is old fashioned revue with a local twist – a host of satirical sketches, stand-up, songs, games and monologues. Jon Bounds and Jon Hickman bring a version of their popular Birmingham miscellany, Paradise Circus, to the stage with biting satire of the media and Birmingham itself — all refracted through a thick lens of Marxist critical theory. It’s funnier than it sounds. Hickman is not from round these parts and Bounds will take him through what it really means to understand Birmingham.

Learn just how to be a local Breakfast Show DJ, what happens at a Birmingham City Council meeting about promoting the latest Big Plan, and how to write a broadsheet article about Birmingham in an editorial meeting down in that London. Help us to find King Kong, discover who won the 1972 Snooker World Championship (which was played 60ft underneath the BT Tower) and work out how much the Council has paid to Capita during a stirring rendition of Mr Blue Sky.

Mark Steadman is at the piano with comedy songs like his famous 11 Bus song which mentions all of the 280 stops in order (11A of course). We may even end on some ELOke.

Paradise Circus Live may finally prove that Birmingham is not shit, or die on stage trying.

Listen now:

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Full Tilt

Brummie directions, as you know, can only be given with reference to pubs and islands. This works for us. This is a good system, or rather it is until the thing which we need to find is the actual pub itself. It is difficult to find a pub in the same way that it is difficult to find my glasses: I need the glasses to find my glasses, and I need the pub to find the pub. Such is the chicken and egg riddle of finding one’s way around Birmingham.

I’m looking for the pub now.

It’s a city centre pub, and this makes finding its whereabouts doubly hard. Firstly because there are no traffic islands, so I can’t orient myself to those and secondly because it’s not really in a bit of town that has any pubs. I’m lost, and nobody can help me.

The pub is called Tilt.

I first heard of Tilt on a text message. Apparently it’s my kind of thing.

“Where is it?”

“Near Martineau Place. In an arcade thing that didn’t really work out.”

“Ah. Birmingham’s famous Failed Development Quarter.”

Martineau Place is one of Brum’s many mixed use developments and it’s always felt jinxed. It’s currently anchored by two Poundland stores, one on each of the corners that face onto Corporation Street. Inside things have come and gone — mostly gone.

Tilt is a craft beer bar, like the kids have now.

“So is it actually in Martineau Place then?”
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There are spaces in the city which are designed to be a terminus. Shops are a terminus. Pubs are a terminus. We run to them. We pop to them. We are at them, we are in them or perhaps we are down them. We never travel through them.

Run with me now, run with me through the pubs.

One of my regular city centre running routes pushes me through—never to—the Arcadian.

The Arcadian. Image cc: El Bingle.
The Arcadian. Image cc: El Bingle.

Launched as a confusing architectural proposition of East-meets-West in the city’s China Town, time and use have added to the Arcadian’s cocktail of ideas. Originally its anchor tenant was a cinema which enjoyed a symbiosis with chic bars, chain pubs, High Street restaurant names, and hole-in-the-wall Chinese cafés.

The cinema is now an apartment block stuffed into a multiplex outline whilst those chic drinking holes, still wearing their first fit out, stand as a tired testament to spent 90s optimism—Blair’s Bars. Even the few pubs which have changed hands recently wear this tired air on top of their fresh decor, as though a consumption sits deep in the development’s bones.

The Arcadian is a split level open air mall. I run across first floor wooden walkways, and plunge myself down steel staircases. I choose the path through here because sometimes a runner seeks a certain distance or must complete their exercise within a certain time and we pick the paths that give us the outcomes that we most need; I choose this path because it feels transgressive, to enter a destination but always with trajectory, to derivé but never to arrive; I choose this path because its mishmash of signs and ideas lend a dramatic backdrop to my run, because running through here is weird, like running through the set of Bladerunner.

The Craft City Line

We’ve been out drinking for about six hours, we’ve lost a lot of people and one of us is bleeding. In a few minutes one of us is going to try to pick a row with a train driver. I am cool hunting in the suburbs of Birmingham, and it’s going poorly.


Here are two things that are hot right now: craft beer, and Birmingham.

So hot are these two things that when The Guardian ran yet another piece a piece on how Birmingham is cool now, craft beer formed a central part of its thesis:

“Two years ago, you struggled to get a pint of real ale, let alone craft beer, in most of Birmingham. Now, from Colmore Row, down John Bright Street, to Digbeth, the city centre is awash in the stuff. It’s as if a phalanx of hipsters, fleeing London’s housing market, have swept up the West Coast mainline to alight at New Street.”

Now that’s not true (we’ve had real and craft beer for at least two and a half years*) but it doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. If craft beer is a measure of how cool a place is, then just how cool is Birmingham? And what would be a fair test?

I’ve got an idea.
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When Fox News rented a quote on ‘creeping sharia’-like issues from terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson he duly provided by saying, amongst other things, that there are

actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in

Brummies, Brits and other onlookers, following the script of the Twitter-storm, kicked out against the inaccuracies in Emerson’s argument with the most visible content coalescing into the Twitter hashtag #FoxNewsFacts.

Whilst I didn’t join in it was nice to see my Twitter streams alive like this as it’s felt like a long time since my particular network had come together in play. You see I’ve felt for a long time that Twitter is different these days (that is: it’s a bit boring these days) but for a few hours last night it could have been 2009 again: Twitter could be fun again. Nobody was selling me anything or live tweeting their way through TV shows I wanted to watch later; everybody was sharing, creating, and pushing back at the folly of an auld enemy.

But then feelings of doubt came to me.

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4 defaced Birmingham road signs that won’t surprise you, and then some undefaced ones that might

It’s a cliché, but one of the best things about Birmingham is this sign:

And we salute the indefatigability of the young scamps that keep it going.

Some don’t put the effort in, but scrape a pass:

Some try but fail:

Hey, we’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at a road sign that can be made to look a bit rude.

But, in general, kids today just can’t be bothered. They’re probably too brainwashed with that aggressive Islamist agenda they have in school these days. Where’s the next Banksy going to come from?
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Concrete and Cocktails: a journey to Birmingham’s glitter-stained independent heart

An unchained psychogeographic adventure from the authors of Pier Review.

Can you drink in all of Birmingham city centre’s independent hostelries in one day in 2011? Yes of course, although it might not be sensible. This is the first appearance on the web of this adventure, although it has been available as an eBook for some time.

CC by: Danny Wolpert
CC by: Danny Wolpert

As a part-time journalist and aspiring avatar for the gods of debauchery you are asked to do some unsavoury things. Be it covering some average indie band’s third ‘my dad drives the van’ gig. Or having to find an interesting angle on Valentine’s Day, despite having all romance crushed out of your soul by a government intent on turning the country you live in into a feudal system where big business robber barons set up their own personal fiefdoms using jazzy branding and clown make-up. But sometimes you get given a task that you are so attuned to, so personally right for, that it feels like the hand of Baron La Croix himself has pushed you to this point. Granted, the email only asked for a small article about my favourite independent pubs in Birmingham, but I knew this was a coded communication from the Furies, a challenge. Could I drink in all of the independent pubs in Birmingham in just one day? Of course I knew it was possible, just not very sensible. In my head I counted ten probable targets and beer maths did the rest. One pint in each meant ten pints at least. I was going to need back-up.Jon Bounds is a man with a lot of pie-placed fingers, his intelligence is sharpened by an odd wit. He seems to be the only person whose capacity for the Devil’s Dishwater exceeds my own and can understand the startlingly lucid and intelligent observations I tend to make after four or five small beers. So recruiting him was important and understandably easy given his weakness for strong continental lager and odd tasks.Please note the following account is pieced together from handwritten notes that degenerate into a language, I suspect, is a drunken dyslexic cuneiform, and a memory that doesn’t work properly in the first place.

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The Subterraneans guided tour was developed for the 2013 Flatpack Film Festival. Exploring the Metropolis was a sub-theme of the festival that month and David Bowie had just released his album The Next Day after a decade of silence. From him I borrowed a song title to set the scene for my journey beneath the city.

It was to be my personal ‘Bowie’ moment, with tickets for the event selling out the same day. The festival office reported that every other phone call was a request to go onto the returns list for the event. The landlord of one of the tunnels we visited decreed that only 17 people, plus cameraman, volunteer and myself would be able to have access, once photo ID had been provided. ‘Inaccessible’ had translated into ‘exclusive’. Why such demand to visit dark, dripping, uninviting places? This is one attraction the city provides in freely and in abundance. The answer partly lies in the event being presented as a guided tour: someone else tests the ground, tracks down the key holder, completes the risk assessments and shoulders the responsibility. Exploring alone is lonely, dangerous and marks you as an outsider. Group solidarity defers the anxiety of becoming a marginalised troglodyte.


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Go West! The Bearwood Question

Welcome to Birmingham (you're leaving Bearwood)

The Bearwood Question is an idea I coined a while back when writing about local media policy – but bear with me it’s much more interesting than that!

Bearwood is a lovely area of the West Midlands that I’ve lived in a number of times. It sits across a local authority border and manages to not quite be in Sandwell and not quite be in Birmingham. When I lived there I looked to Sandwell for local government (well, if I’m honest mostly for bin collections and street lights), and to Birmingham for my cultural and social life. To all intents and purposes I was living in Brum, but I was paying a much more favourable rate of council tax for those street lights than I would have been just down the road. It was like living under some sort sort of flag of convenience or being a council tax exile. This is the reality of life on Brum’s fuzzy edge, and it speaks, I think, to our tendency to argue with ourselves about place: we are pulled in various directions through a tension of civic, emotional and cultural life.

Years back over one weekend two hashtag games emerged on Twitter that were based on this sense of place. #brumsouvenirs revolved around wordplay on Birmingham place names; the aim to come up with a souvenir idea that reflected the place name (the game was originated by Pete Ashton, who collected the greatest hits on his blog). The second game was #doesntmeanyourbrummie (sic), started as a response to the #doesntmeanyourblack meme (see, the grammar is fine, it’s part of the joke); this tag was about uniquely Brummie experiences.

Each game threw up border disputes pretty quickly, such as:

  • “faggots come from the Black Country” (if you’re not a midlander this is OK to say)
  • “chips and gravy is a Black Country thing” (not a Brummie thing)
  • “Great Barr is in Walsall” (so not Birmingham)
  • “can we do Wolverhampton?”
  • “why is everyone OK with Bearwood, when that’s mostly in Sandwell?” (see above)

I once proposed a Birmingham update to Godwin’s Law. Godwin’s Law is an Internet adage that states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

To that end I suggested a Brummie’s Law (I’m not naming it after myself):

As an online discussion about Birmingham grows longer, the probability of a boundary dispute approaches 1.

At the heart of Brummie’s Law sits the Bearwood Question, the quintessential distillation of the city’s fuzzy edges: what does local mean if you live in Bearwood?

Editor’s note: yes essentially this was a “flashback episode” made to pad out the series cheaply – we hope you’ve enjoyed our City Limits edition. Oh what you don’t know what we mean? Well go here and see!

Pic: Welcome to Birmingham sign, Bearwood / Sandwell Border – CC Elliot Brown. Elliot notes there is no welcome to Sandwell on the other side. Still, the council tax is much cheaper.