On the buses

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

I am thirty years-old (-ish) and have lived in Birmingham all my life (except the times I haven’t) in that time I have never learnt to drive. Consider this my favour to you. Seeing as I’m an notorious booze enthusiast, prone to bad decisions, and have somewhat of an impulse problem giving me a car would be like giving a toddler semi automatic weapon; hilarious but someone would get hurt. So I get around using public transport, more specifically the bus.

Now its easy to complain about the bus system in Birmingham, as you’ll see in the next few hundred words. But I, as ever, have a point.
Continue reading “On the buses”

Winterval starts here

Last year Birmingham City Council  held a Christmas lights ceremony that ended in what most called a ‘fiasco’. Our crap Altamont was down to nobody guessing that one of the biggest bands of the moment giving a free concert would be popular.

This year instead of a big fuss there will be a Christmas parade. In November. One month and ten days before Christmas, reindeer and whatnot will be kicking off our celebrations. With no pretence at trying to encompass other celebrations to draw out the shopping season, at least with ‘Winterval’ they were trying. Its an old rote that Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year but five weeks before Christmas is bordering on silly, seeing as most men are still be scurrying around in the dark on Christmas eve wondering if a bottle of screen wash is a suitable present for a ten year old. Granted, Jesus was probably born in April but lets try to stay within December eh?

Continue reading “Winterval starts here”

Birmingham Music Map

Music Culture From In And Around Birmingham, UK

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.

The results so far were commissioned in the form of the Birmingham Music Map as part of ‘plug in’ mac‘s opening exhibition curated by Simon Poulter, more details on the exhibition are here. Here’s a shot of it in situ.

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.)

Price for framed copies on application. Please email for details.

Explore the online version, either click and drag, or use the zoom and scroll controls at the bottom:

PDF Version of map

You can still add your memories to the map, here.

Tufty Shit

Maybe I’m romancing it because I’ve never been formally trained, or glimpsed behind the curtain of the modern newsroom. But I carry the naive notion that a journalist should be a Jedi wielding TRUTH like the Force and ramming the lightsaber of FACTS up the arse of all that is corrupt. I know it can’t be easy, not only do you have to meet deadlines, smoke fifteen packets of cigarettes a day, and wear a hat with a small ticket that says ‘PRESS’ on it but you also have find interesting things to write about every, single, day. So its not surprising that many journalists fall for the Dark Side of PR.

Like this story here http://tinyurl.com/ykn7639. The story is about a squirrel that has been banned from a popular Midlands theme park. Now this theme park is only mentioned twice, but once is in the headline and the entire story is about a new ride — that, apparently defying all common sense, is so good even the fucking squirrel enjoys it. They even named the squirrel after the ride making sure the journo HAS to mention it at least once. Interestingly, the technique they are using to  this thrill-seeking rodent is the same one that some supermarkets were purportedly using to keep  teenagers away from thrilling Car Parks a few years ago. The one which the manufacturer says has no effects on dogs.

PR stands for Public Relations and it used to be the PR person’s job to be the public face of the company. That can helpful and, dare I say it, good. They can act like the conscious of a large corporation, the little Jiminy Cricket pushing the people they represent to give to charities, start recycling initiatives, or even encouraging discussion and dialogue between companies and their critics. Unfortunately on the flip side it is far less effort to seed newsrooms with press releases with just enough quirky news worthiness so on a slow news day can be picked up and actually printed as facts.

Now I’m not saying I know for definite that the journalist wasn’t down at the theme park listening in on park wardens’ conversations and shouting ‘What a scoop!’* when this particular gem was mentioned. Just that I find it far more likely to be the centre of a Venn diagram.  Sitting where the circles of slow news day, lazy journalism, and the social disease rash of PR overlap.

*yes, my experience of journalism is purely from black and white American films, what of it?

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Sabres of Paradise

Fans of vague marketing talk and transparent attempts to make the public feel as they’re in control really should head over to paradisecircus.co.uk and marvel at the property developments Argent.

Apparently Argent and the Birmingham City Council have an ‘exclusivity agreement’ and if that brings to mind the result of an awkward conversational from a couple of Uni friends that have been occasionally drunkingly ending up in bed together, then you wouldn’t be far wrong. Argent and The Council have promised not to see other people, but on the promise that Argent phone their mates and check they don’t mind. The ‘mates’ in this analogy are us and the phone call they have promised to make is the website, its feedback forms and a small presentation they made in Paradise Forum.

I went to this ‘public exhibition’ which consisted of all the different pages of that web site on four-foot banner posters and collection of smarmy PR drones, I believe the collective noun of which is a ‘toss’. Not so much an exhibition as a talking down to. These guys talked in non-committal terms about improving the ‘flow’ of pedestrian traffic from Victoria Square to what’s behind it. Now, considering what’s behind it is/will be the library they are having to build because of the redevelopment, the exhibition centres and Broad Street, the question is do we really want to improve traffic? That is if its mainly going to consist of bored business tourists looking for lap dancing clubs and red faced Broad Street louts spewing WKD vomit like sprinklers? Or should we actually dig deep trenches filled with flaming tar and post irritable machine gunners every fifteen yards.

OK I’m being facetious, but if improved pedestrian flow is one of the major concerns — do we really think that having to walk through an enclosed shopping area is such a barrier? Are blank-faced pastel people drinking coffee in a way no English person actually does going encourage this flow? And could we not just put up better signs?

This stock photo ridden example is the most patronising and indicative of the vagueness of said drones. Hilariously suggesting that shops cafés or bars could move in, exactly like Argent’s other development, Brindleyplace. Only this time all the major bar, café and restaurant brands are already represented in Birmingham, and in this economic climate nobody is opening those sorts of businesses any more – just look at Broad Street, where nearly every other unit is a gutted smeared window, a tombstone to another dream dying.

After a while of looking at the site you notice how the entire text of its prefaced with words like ‘possible’ and ‘potential’ Is this because they so really want to avoid giving away the dirty reality? They’ve already decided what’s going to be done, and nothing will change that.

Not even protesting.

I was born in 79 so I grew up with Thatcher smashing the unions and images of policemen beating up picket lines, by the time I was a teenager student protest had become a bad cliché, and as an adult saw the biggest civil protest this country has ever saw roundly ignored as we were taken to war. So sure, email your opinion if it’ll make you feel better and part of the process, that’s what it’s there for.

In fact that’s the only reason it is there.

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Up Bournville Boulevard

Last Tuesday Jon sent me to cover the BBC WM public forum debate about the Kraft takeover of Cadbury, it was held in Bournville. Bournville, for those of you that don’t know, was built by the do-gooding Cadbury family who thought booze was the devil’s piss. Subsequently it’s dryer than Gandhi’s Black and Decker belt sander. Jon sent me for three reasons; one, Jon is a cruel bastard; two, he had a strong idea that I would find it a boring waste of time; and three, if he and Carl Chinn actually meet the universe will turn inside out and reality itself’ll get torn a new arsehole.

The reaction to the news across the the media has ranged from the predicable hysterical cloying nostalgia of ‘oh no they’re going to make wispas taste of Stilton and and shoot curly wurlys into space, how dare they mess with things from my childhood’. To the sort of surprising cynical capitalism normally reserved for European baddies in Die Hard. Myself, although concerned about the job losses, didn’t really give too much of a toss. Cadbury’s as a company has been floated as public stock since 1962 where it set about swallowing smaller businesses with almost religious zeal to, ironically enough, control the American market.

I was shocked when I arrived to find a grey horde — my presence bringing the average age down to about sixty. Seeing as, to me, the only real issue was the potential loss of jobs. There was a surprising lack of people who actually work there, as opposed to used-to-work-there or my-family’s-been-working-there-since-we-made-chocolate-from-pterodactyl-eggs.

I’d be hard pushed to call the meeting a debate as everyone in the room obviously agreed that the takeover was a Bad Thing. The main argument then came between the capitalist apologists personified by Eddie Large look-alike Lord Digby ‘biggest dog in the world’ Jones and Carl Chin, tonight looking like a Vulcan making a guest appearance in a Bristow cartoon. Carl stormed the platform with a series of terrific sound bites and gesticulations, he also managed to cover the first two rows in socialist spittle which is a clear sign you’re getting your moneys worth.

Warren Buffett and Sherlock Holmes

One woman stood up and said that she “didn’t want to see it [Cadbury] turned over to the yanks” as if they were going to force her to wear ten gallon hats and pitch baseball instead of knit. The banter between the panellists turned nasty when LDJ explained there was nothing the government can, or should do to stop overseas investment in this country anybody who said otherwise he said, referring to Comrade Chin, was offering ’empty promises’.

It was was about then the atmosphere changed, before it had been one of pleasant — but excited — solidarity, like Marks and Spencer’s during a blackout, but as the feelings of betrayal came out people started to get upset. The man next to me sniffling in a touching but also gross and really really annoying way. These was no real argument, they just felt hurt, confused and while at a loss to understand the complexities of big business they understood also the inevitability of it. They had questions to ask but what they really wanted was reassurances and to be told it was all going to be all right.

It wasn’t a good way for the residents to express their feelings because the issues were complicated enough to leave no clear pariah to shout at. It wasn’t a good way of disseminating information because there wasn’t really any, and as representatives from neither Kraft or Cadbury turned up, and it wasn’t even a good way of finding out what your average Cadbury worker thought of it all because everybody that still works there was either there working or had an early night because they had to work there in the morning.

What does the future hold? Well, on the 2nd of Feb the votes will come in and the shareholders will have voted unanimously in favour of the sale. That’s seeing as almost 25% of the shareholders are hedge funds that stand to double the worth of their stocks.

Will there be great change? I don’t think so, well not immediately. You don’t borrow a huge amount of money to acquire a company like Cadbury without respecting it as a brand, a brand with an identity, a story, and an ethos. You don’t pay £11.9bn and start fucking with its soul.

If anything Kraft workers in Illinois should be out the front with placards because the money has got to come from somewhere.

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Tag nuts

So I spoke to the Editor* about what to write about this week and he gave me this, probably to wind me up, which suggests that ten people are responsible for most of the graffiti in Brum. I knew my feelings on graff have been documented ad nauseum in other places. Also I find the weary ‘is it art?’ argument nonsensical and unhelpful and am at loathe to drag it out one more time. So, for once, I thought it would be good to give someone active in that world a chance to reply. The guy I spoke to didn’t want to be named so I haven’t.

What do you think of the thought that there only ten people responsible for the graffiti in Birmingham?

I doubt the council see it like this to be honest, I can imagine they have a wanted list a lot longer. But who knows. They will have probably whittled it down to their top ten targets who they have literally charted as the top ten. However what they don’t realise is that if your a “tagger” part of that concept is to get up. As many times as possible. More than anyone else. So in a way with this approach they may encourage some of them to go harder. Get to number 1. If they publish this list. Its possible there will even more tags on road then before… There’s so many factors involved its really hard to say.

Do you think you’re one of the ten?

No. I am probably about number 40. This might encourage me to work harder as I was just saying. No in reality I rarely “tag” these days and if I do I think about the size, the placement, the camera’s… The problem with a lot of the younger kids these days is they just write on anything, anywhere without thought. The whole problem with “tagging” itself, lies in there somewhere.

How about the fact that 10% of the city was ‘blighted’, is it a blight? Where do you think that figure comes from?

It’s a media figure. A bullshit figure. 10% of a city is a lot no? Maybe its 1% I just don’t really understand what they are trying to say there to be honest. It makes little sense. With regards the concept of “tagging” being a blight, in some respects yes it is, mainly due to what I was referring to in the previous question. A nicely placed, crafted, practices, hand-styled tag to me is beautiful. And people need to remember, all this scrawling and seemingly messy paint they see on the street are TAGS, Bombs… This is NOT “Graffiti Art” these are two separate entities. Although someone reading right now will cuss me for saying that.

Do you make a distinction between ‘good’ graff and ‘bad’ graff – where should toys learn if not on bus stops?

Good question. Half of the problem with “graffiti” in a broader sense is related to legal spaces and understanding of it as a culture. But hey, a bus stop is only a bus stop. It’s a public space. Its everyone’s isn’t it? Write what you want on it I say, but maybe just try and be positive with what that is. And maybe do write on a bus stop, but NOT on someone’s garage or garden fence, you know?

Is what you do an act of aggression against the city?

Not at all. Not for me. But for a lot of the angry youth of today maybe it is. Their way of marking their territory. But a lot of the tags in Brum, you might see in other places. Its not all about Brum, Its about the UK, the world for some of us. To a lot of older artists the street becomes their platform for freedom of speech. Sometimes that will be aggression towards an area, more often it will just be something they want to say. Anything from political messages about the system to a simple “I love you” to someone. We need some kind of freedom of speech out there. The street fills the gaps.

What would you suggest to answer the graff ‘problem’?

In Birmingham and in this current situation, the powers that be need to think about this whole thing in a bigger sense. They need to do their research; they need to watch films like Bomb It and Inside/outside. They need to communicate and reach out rather than trying to come down with an iron fist. With this heavy approach they will simply lose. Some of these younger writers (who I know will be in the top 5 say) some of them are angry young people with no other outlet. Like I said earlier a big top ten wanted list will probably just up the ante, up the potential fame. I remember years ago I “got up” on the front page of the local rag. I loved it. It was king of the town in certain circles.. top of the wanted list. I never got caught either. Fame.

Any thing else you want to add?

To all the bombers, taggers, dub writers, people, just try and think a little. Everyone gets drunk and smacks a tag where they shouldn’t sometimes, but just think a bit more about where your putting your name. And go paint a piece! A proper piece, somewhere out the way, take your photo’s and enjoy it. Its not all about getting up. Its much more fun than tagging a shop and running away from the police. To the establishment, as I said, do your research and try to understand this is a culture. Not just gang style youth’s going mental out there… for some of the kids, its all they have. A little empathy?

*when I say Editor, I of course mean Jon Bounds, but I like to think of him as my editor with a cigar in his mouth, cursing and shouting ‘GET ME PICTURES OF THE SPIDER-MAN’

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.


Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua*

Anglo-Saxon England was a horrible violent place with different kings and fiefdoms slaughtering for land, old gods, and, when the Danes landed, shits and giggles. Not unlike Newtown (except the bit about the Danes – I’ve never seen a Dane  in North Birmingham).

Another thing worth stabbing your neighbouring villagers up the arsehole for, was gold. Not the tatty mass produced Elizabeth Duke crap the third generation crack-babies are killing each other for at present. Beautiful, hand crafted gold unique items; normally it was used for decorating the weapons you yourself used to rob people for their gold, thus making you more attractive to rob. You can see why it escalated.

To keep it safe they buried it, and The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered last year in the West Midlands; if you mean the ‘West Midlands Region‘ which pretty much covers everything with buildings between London and Manchester.

Folks, we already live in a world where pirates in Somalia fight off big corporations dumping waste into the ocean. Now it seems that buried treasure is not just storybook fantasy but a possibility if you plough deep enough. The world is slipping into fiction; trust me it’ll be mermaids next.

So who owns it? Well according to The Treasure Act 1996, no I’m not making that up, it belongs to the landowner and the finder BUT English museums have first dibs because the Queen says so. The Art Fund working with Birmingham museum and a bunch of others are campaigning very hard to raise the 3.3 million pounds it has been valued at so they can keep it in the Midlands. This is typical Birmingham behaviour, many is the hour we brummies have spent in the pubs ‘claiming’ any favourite products events, or celebrities that are in some way connected to Birmingham, however tenuous.

“Led Zepplin?”

“We’re ‘avin em” we nod sagely

“Cluedo?” someone else will suggest

“we’re ‘avin it” everyone agrees

“Elvis?”

“Spent a lot of time in Alabama, that’s got a Birmingham. We’re ‘avin ‘im”

(By the way, its good to see that this tradition of claiming pseudo-brummies as our own has been carried on by Broad Street and its marvellously silly Walk Of Stars’)

The Art Fund campaign has garnered some attention from the likes of Brummie-when-it-suits-him Frank Skinner and probably-never-even-been-to-Birmingham-even-though-he’s-been-to-all-the-other-third-world-countries Michael Palin.

gold-arse

The campaign is to ’Save’ the Hoard, save it from what? Being stuffed into an envelope and smelted by cash4mysterioustresureofhistoricalsignificance.com? Do we really need to keep it in the midlands so badly? Do we think ‘The West Midlands’ was a region ruled by ancient warrior kings with spit in their beards and copious supplies of concubines an pork scratchings? Must we fight for their piggy legacy? Real history; it’s an artificial political region dreamt up by John Major (without doubt the least viking-ish PM ever).

Are we hoping for pre-dark ages artefact tourists? A quick look at Facebook reveals that the largest relevant group would probably be Anglo Saxon England and most of them seem to be rudderless English guys looking for some sort of cultural identity. Even if the combined membership of the first three pages of Anglo Saxon fans on facebook, rounded up to a generous 3,000 they would have to pay £1,100 each for the museum to break even.

Okay I’m being spurious but I’m still not convinced why we should care.

*the title taken from one of the inscriptions found one of the artefacts. Translated it means ‘Rise up, Lord; may Your enemies be scattered and those who hate You be driven from Your face.’ – ‘Those You Hate Be Driven From Your Face’ being the name of my autobiography.

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.


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Blues and me

I was watching and saying manly things when Birmingham City almost beat Man Utd on Saturday, but first, a story;

When I was younger I was deemed shy and somewhat bookish, if you would have asked me at the time I probably would have more described myself as “mysterious” or “a lone wolf” proving not only was I a bit socially awkward, but also a bit of a tool. The cure for this, my matriarchal Nan decided, was to get a job in a pub as soon as I was old enough. The pub was, and by all accounts still is, quite rough. When I arrived for my first shift the manager, a lurching ex-police officer, took me to one side and explained that the pub was mainly a Zulu* pub and if there was any trouble I should just go get him, referring to a group of blokes in the corner he said:

‘See the big one?’

‘Can’t miss him’ I said

‘He’s one of the Lieutenants give him whatever he wants and I’ll square it with him later’

‘OK’ I said

‘See him’ pointing a particularly violent looking one with a fist full sovereign rings ‘he’s a nice bloke but can get a bit nasty when he’s had a drink’ I didn’t want to point out to my new manager the table of empties in front of this guy so I just nodded my head.

‘And that guy over there’ he started

‘Is Uncle ***, my, you know, uncle’ I interrupted

‘You’ll be fine’ he said as he walked away leaving me to figure out the pumps and glasses myself.

I have a complicated relationship with football, and more specifically the Blues, that goes beyond me being the sort of fat kid they stuck in goal when I was a child and never developing the sort of zeal that most other men seem to have. For a start I grew up in a family that fervently supported Birmingham City and developed an interest in the results if only so I knew what mood all the adults would be in for the rest of the weekend. But I never really enjoyed it that much, not actually disliking it, but never really seeing the point, I never developed the appreciation of the sport just a passing interest in the results.

Not loving football is a uniquely alienating experience for a man. For a start it seems to be the default conversation starter for men, who are, and lets be honest here, on the whole emotionally crippled and socially backwards at best. A common ground that allows us to interact according to shared experience and familiar rules. Lack of this knowledge will make most men seem untrustworthy and somehow feminine. So a learnt to bluff a good football conversation, and learnt quick.

There was an entire season that I went to nearly every Blues game, I was working as a security guard and got to see the inner workings. Behind the scenes it was surprisingly run-down, the player’s tunnel being a concrete corridor connected with rotting wooden gates. It was littered with the corpses of Saint John Ambulance volunteers that had dared to make jokes about Steve Bruce’s nose ‘Leave them as a warning to others’ he would growl when asked about clearing them up.

I soon became friends with the security boss and got the cushy job on the ‘Snatch Team’, we sat in the observational office and were sent to eject any trouble makers or known hooligans banned from the ground, the paid security were not the people you had to watch, it was the unpaid stewards that would take people to blind spots in the security cameras.

Since then, mainly because many of my friends are massive Blues fans, I still occasionally watch some matches in pubs but I’m strictly there for the company and bonding that football provides not the games themselves.

Unless it’s against the Villa, I hate the Villa.

*As we all know the Zulus being the name for the hooligan gang that associated themselves with Birmingham City Football Club so called because of the amount of black people that made up part of the gang, which was unusual at the time.**

**does anyone else feel a weird sort of pride in that?

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Backstabbers Guide to Wolverhampton

In the slow news week between Christmas and New Years the BBC decided that it would be newsworthy to point out how shit Wolverhampton was. My first reaction was ‘have these people never been to Coventry?’

I mean our sister site, Wolverhampton: it doesn’t suck dog shit from the treads of a zombie’s hush puppies probably wont mind me saying that Wolvo is a bland wasteland of chain shops, a middlingly terrible football team with England’s most soulless and dispiriting ground and only a decent sized music venue to redeem it. But compared to the seventh ring of concrete hell that is Coventry, Wolverhampton is a mythical Shangri-La where lemonade runs from the taps and tramps vomit rainbows.

Its also not the first time Lonely Planet has had a pop at Wolverhampton or the Midlands in general. It seems we are the Lonely Planet’s go-to guys if they need quick bit of publicity. A bit like the Express resorting to anything Diana related when their figures dip, but instead of placing us on an impossible plinth, they piss all over our chips, our arms, and our hair.

These polls are bollocks, designed to appeal to lazy copy+paste journalists that regurgitate almost any press release that crosses across their desk. PR is journalism gone Sith and they know that a easy sound bite containing hyperbole like ‘fifth worst city in the entire universe’ will make a good and quick story.

It’s also worth bearing in mind here that the Lonely Planet brand has been owned by the BBC since 2007 and is one of the top four brands, along with Top Gear, Earth, and Doctor Who, that earned the BBC %17 of its revenues as reported in the 2008/2009 report. So essentially it was a news story about a story itself had published to publicise itself. And since when have the Beeb been allowed report nonsense? In fact that’s not what bothers me, its that the nonsense didn’t go far enough.

Suggested news stories for the BBC

  • Birmingham voted Britain’s most transparent city; ‘Is it made of glass?’ asks Liverpool
  • Tipton “World centre for diarrhoea”
  • Coventry is technically not a city and actually a lazy Black hole; ‘Spon End is just condensed Dark Matter’ apparently
  • Wolf and Bear baiting now legal in Birmingham; ‘if anything, they enjoy it more than we do’ claims crap wolf expert
  • Wolverhampton to host next years Wanklympics

  • Men from Northfield “UK’s most inconsiderate lovers”

Oh, that one might actually be true.

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.