Say goodbye to the Premiere video club, Old Walsall Road, Hamstead. This is at least the third premises for the ‘club’ along one stretch of shops on the edge of Brum—it first opened in the eighties when easy availability of ‘Driller Killer‘ and the movie ‘Shag’ (which seems to have vanished from existence) on VHS or Beta was upmost in the minds of the Great Barrians and quickly expanded.
Like the universe what expands must eventually contract, and the tapes are finally disappearing in a gnab gib.
The locations and dwarf holes mentioned in this tale are based on fact. The people and all the rest are not.
I walk along the canal and look above wondering how much concrete is necessary to prevent the entire elaborate junction from collapsing. The pillars holding up metal and flesh appear to be the legs of giants while the traffic travels along their spines. The graffiti at the bottom gives it the look of elaborately painted nails. Or like a tattoo that marks the owner’s individuality.
I look at my right hand and frown at what I’m holding. Have I been drinking? Focusing on the bottle of vodka it suddenly occurs to me that my mind is in the process of being drowned by a tsunami of ethanol. I look at the water rippling on the breeze. My attention is drawn to the sound of a bell from a cyclist. I move out of the way. The cyclist nods at me. The universal body language of greetings, acknowledgement and thanks. A small attempt to make a connection with a human being that you would in all probability never see again. I walk towards the darkness created by the cavernous arch of a large bridge.
It had always felt like huge cave when we used to play as kids. Billy used to call it the Bat Cave. He was Robin to my Batman and the adventure was always the trek to get here. Granny’s house was on the corner of Wheelwright Road and Gravelly Hill so it wasn’t far. Our parents didn’t mind as when I reached thirteen, I was considered capable and mature enough to look after myself and a ten year old. A different time that seems an aeon away. I smash the bottle against the wall of the bridge. I’m in the dark. I have been for days.
I think about granny and her stories about the building of Spaghetti Junction. Me and Billy always thought the Giant’s Junction was a better name as we never liked spaghetti. Unless it was in tomato sauce that we both did like and that granny always had tins of when we visited. It was during such a meal that we both heard about the dwarf holes. We splashed sauce while eating as we were told about where Copeley Hill is now, there were caves dotted around the landscape. People used to live in them and the caves were there for centuries. Then they built the motorway and were not seen again. Granny kept saying that they were now gone forever but children always have the impression that adults say such things to stop them from exploring. We had already made up our minds that we were going to find them.
Four years ago I wrote this, a slightly hysterical but solid blog post about the film 1 Day. 1 Day is a grime musical starring actual members plucked from Birmingham’s rival gangs, the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew.
The article was written during a time where I was working in a Pupil Referral Unit in north Birmingham with kids that were gang members or vulnerable to them. The posts trepidation to the film coming out is an echo to my higher-ups absolute panic about the film which they (wrongly) thought would cause another spike in violence between these two gangs.
I eventually left the unit, and a large portion of me leaving was down to not being able to fully leave work at work, you get to know the kids and through that you are afforded small peeks into their worlds. Eventually this, and the sheer hard work it took to connect with them, wore me down.
The opportunity came for someone from PC to go watch a press screening of the documentary One Mile Away in which members of both gangs try to broker a truce through the director Penny Woolcock who became a trusted during the making of 1 Day. I couldn’t pass it up, so exhausted and still a little hungover from the weekend I dragged myself to Aston.
In a room that is normally used as a nursery I eat my chicken and drink urn brewed tea as three or four unassuming black guys mill around and press buttons on their laptops. We soon settle down and the documentary starts.
As a home worker I need excuses to get out of the house so, despite not being that interested in food other than as fuel, I’ve been volunteering at Stirchley Stores, doing shifts and running errands a few times a week. As well as the essential contact with other people it also gives me a commute, of a kind. It’s just a walk through Hazelwell Park and over the River Rea, five minutes at most, and it’s given me a real appreciation of these small, local parks which cover the Birmingham sprawl.
Functional and unpretentious, Hazelwell Park is a typical community resource. A large rectangle with space for ball sports (as I believe they’re known), enclosed on four sides by a terrace, a patch of woodland, some allotmments and the mighty Rea. Like other parks along the river its path forms part of the National Cycle Route 5, a pastoral bypass to the noisy Pershore Road used by pedestrians and cyclists alike. It also houses a vast murder of crows which, remarkable as they are, are not the subject of this letter.
With the Birmingham Popular Music Archive I’ve been inviting the public to contribute to an online database of music culture in Birmingham, by placing venues, artists, people or anything they feel relates to music on a map.
Poster copies are available, screenprinted on gorgeous white archival paper at B1 (707 × 1000mm /27.8 × 39.4in) in a signed and numbered limited edition of 100 copies. (£25 Now £15 plus £5 postage and packing — recorded delivery.)
Costers is closed and part of my adolescence disappeared. I’m sitting in its cultural replacement which by all accounts is exactly the same but better. It’s brighter, louder, bigger with comfyer seats, two TV screens and a pinball machine. The Costers crowd have made the migration of 100 yards to another underground bar and first impressions are good. Personally it should feel like a fresh start but I cant help but miss the ghosts. Costers was a dark run down shit hole but it had a cobweb of personal history hanging from every corner. My connection to the Birmingham alternative scene it seems was the shared fetish stick of that shit hole. I’m young enough to generate new memories – but too old to invest heavily in this scene.