101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 23: The Post


Imagine a time before always-on instant communication with everybody. Imagine a world where you had to add your seal to a document in hot wax and have a messenger run it to its recipient. By the time they got there, no-one would care just how lovely the fucking cupcake you were eating was.

That’s why we needed the post, reliable, accessible communication that was open to all, across the country and for a reasonable price. And it was all but invented by a chap from a suburb of a city not all that far away from us now.

The phrases “special delivery” and “emptying sack” are also a godsend for smut merchants worldwide, and who do we have to thank? Sir Rowland Hill,  a schoolteacher in Edgbaston and mates with Joseph Priestley and Tom Paine, wrote a pamphlet entitled “Post Office Reform its Importance and Practicability”. The report called for “low and uniform rates” according to weight, rather than distance and pre-payment by the sender.

The dude later went on to lower train fares, for that too we’d lick his reverse side.

Come back Sir Rowland, we need you.

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”

Big City Culture

I want to talk about Birmingham’s bid for Britain’s City of Culture. Now this shouldn’t be confused for the European City of Culture bid, which if won brings money, tourists and actual prestige, That’s going to the South Hampshire region in 2022 which by then, if Internet idiots are to be believed, we will all be destroyed by an alignment of planets as predicted by the Mayans*. No this is the British city of culture, a knock off basically.

So if Birmingham is successful what would we actually win? Well, potentially holding the Brit awards and the Turner prize, although not even that is not definite. And I’m not sure how this would be that even be beneficial. Do we want the Turner prize? Recently it’s turned into an attention grabbing oddity choosing deliberately challenging pieces for the sole reason of angering Sun readers and inciting headlines. And lets face it the art facilities in Birmingham are embarrassingly small, although what we do have is excellent. Including the always interesting Vivid, the young but ever growing Eastside projects, and the only venue really large enough to hold the Turner prize, the Ikon.

And the Brits, who watches the Brits any more? Can anyone, without Googling, name any winners of this years Brits? (and for that matter the Turner prize) and if we do get the Brits, it’ll probably be held in one of the convention centres, squirrelled away from the public. I can imagine the only coverage Birmingham getting will be quaint and condescending ‘Birmingham’s quite nice, that’s a surprise’ pieces using stock footage of the Selfridges building.

Big Heart of England by Phil Davis

So say we do get the bid AND it does bring people in from out of the city, how are they getting here? New Street station will be a building site by then, and Digbeth coach station, while being shiny and new, is still in the middle of an area in the process of rejuvenation. Any wrong turn, which is frankly likely given the signage in Birmingham, could end them in a depressingly industrialised maze fulfilling every stereotype of Birmingham people could have.

The other prize, I swear to god, is rights to use the logo and label of Britain’s city of culture. Thus making the whole process a promise pissing contest for a graphic design solution.

Britain has 66 official cities, and lets be honest there are probably only half of them that could feasibly host the British city culture without making it look like a teachers smiley sticker given to anyone who tries hard. And no matter how low your opinion of Birmingham were defiantly in the top 20 percent, so inevitably even if we don’t put that much effort in, we will be hosting the thing in the next 5 years or so anyway.

The only good I can see if we do get it is, not only will the council will have had to had a good look at our really interesting, worthwhile things that creatives in Birmingham are all ready doing but also they will probably be obliged to make good on all the promises they’re having to make in the bid. Which in the current economic climate of art budgets being cut everywhere is a great move. During the great depression Teddy Roosevelt was applauded for seeing that spending on the arts actually helps resolve economic decline, when he established as part of his New Deal package. Perhaps if Birmingham does get the bid this year (and if you look at the list of competition, the only strong competition is Manchester) the money invested will mean we can grow to be one of the stronger economic cities in Britain and then become a city that will attract tourists anyway.

*This, any right minded person knows, is utter tosh. The apocalypse is a uniquely western idea, the Mayan calender merely resets as part of a cycle, and the ancient Mayans didn’t have the good sense not not eat their own rotting children’s hearts let alone predict the future.**

**actually this is exaggeration, the Mayans were a sophisticated and surprisingly knowledgeable people, and another good example of religion ruining a perfectly good culture.

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.

Illustration by Phil Davis

100 years of The Electric Cinema

The Electric, Birmingham Originally uploaded by new folder

A cosy evening at The Electric with a ‘This Is Your Life’ of Britain’s oldest working picture house in the company of owner Tom Lawes to celebrate its 100th birthday. Opened in late 1909 it was, we heard, one of the first opened with knowledge of what the 1909 Cinematograph Act would require — which is one of the reasons cinemas had to be specialist buildings.

It kicked off with this (DW Griffith!) very early public information film:

We then had some top flight silent physical comedy, when one of the technicians fell off the stage in the dark, and also a bit of Laurel and Hardy accompanied by a organ played by Steve Tovey, the last full time cinema organist in Britain. A real treat was footage of the re-opening of the cinema as a ‘Tatler News Theatre’ in the early 30’s — these showed newsreels and cartoons and locally shot news. The archive was found in a shed on the roof during work in the 70s and must contain a load of local Brum footage — sadly I can find none online, maybe the owners can be persuaded (or helped) to digitise it.

There’s a great quote from one of the staff at the time on this page on Cinema Treasures (which also give a detailed history of the many ownership and name changes over the years):

“The Tatler, I worked at that cinema 1940-1941 as an operator having previously worked at the News Theare High Street, both of these cinemas being owned by Joe Cohen of Jacey Cinemas. At this time it showed cartoons, newsreels and interest films all with the credits cut out to bring the programme down to 70 minutes and if there was a queue one of the shorts was also taken out.
The staff during my time there were manager La Campe, Billy Watts (star screen reporter and later manager of Percival Mackies Band. A dogs- body Schuman. Lesley Tonks was “General Manager” I have many memories of my time there. I remember a Czeckoslovakian refugee starting there, he was the poster writer named Andre Druker, he went on to open all of the coffee shops in Brum.”

Other treasures found around the building include the master print of Eskimo Nell — funded by The Electric’s then owner Berry Jacobs who was a big noise on the ‘continental’ film circuit.

Tom showed a great deal of the refurb work that’s gone into turning the cinema back into an inviting place in recent years — the roof and the plumbing seem to have contributed to it pretty much falling down. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the way in which the previous owners/management were obviously seen. Business-wise they were crap no-doubt, but for a while at least they brought all manner of esoteric, odd, niche and arty films to Brum — I have fond memories of dozing during triple bills of Italian films in the mid to late 90s.

But what has happened to the ‘statues’ that adorned the front in the ‘art’ days? Called ‘Thatcher’s Children’ representing child poverty, they were removed (without care we heard) by the artist John Buckley (creator of the Headington Shark).

Electric Cinema, Birmingham by Ruth and Dave
Electric Cinema, Birmingham by Ruth and Dave

“modelled by unemployed people hung up on coat-hangers.” – will we ever see their like again? We’ll try to find out.

Harry Palmer: Darknosis scientific think-tank laboratory investigations at the PhD show.

Day One (24hrs)  18th Sept 2009 starting 7pm.

Inspired by the statement below, the PhD show’s mythological think-tank investigation, conducted by Harry Palmer, seeks to discover the relationship between the banana plantation and lost civilisation concerning the Hawaiian Mauna Loa tribesmen and women. Mythological hoaxes have been reported suggesting that banana worship and ecological disaster were aligned to the Indian rope trick in which the Darknosis Scientific team sought to define and clarify on their 1917 expedition to this Pacific Ocean Island.
latest investigation
Previous investigations lead by Japanese scientists in 1994.

Statement by Edward Percival N. Spoonhandle – geologist prior to the 1917 expedition:

‘Painting, drawing – that is, the process of meditation and the ability of transmutational story telling, time and space alteration – seen and heard through the senses – is a primitive and ancient instinct.

I do believe that the Mauna Loa cave painters and sand drawers  employed the use of colour and lines via the mobilisation of arms, feet, hands, mouth spray (wind power) – sticks, fingers, dyes and animal inks – the rattle of drums, voice, dancing and chanting creates the psychedelic hypnotism, enchantment. The Illumination of fire….Ghostly apparitions appeared. Gods were formed – some stayed for a few seconds, an hour, others for thousands of years. Their demons haunted themselves!  Superstition emerged and as the short supply of consumable vegetation severely decreased (why, we are unsure) – the last substantial evidence of human subsistence purports to an increased intake of banana and high intakes of potassium.

The Mauna Loa divided experiences into pockets of memory time. The Darknosis team believe that this significant civilisation witnessed disturbing solar movement, tide changes, thermal alteration and temperature fluctuation.  A departure of flight and fantasy, we are unsure.’

PhD show think tank
PhD think tank investigation from inside the think tank

Find out more at The PhD show: On until 25th Sept at The Edge, Birmingham. Please visit website for details and directions: www.phdshow.com

About Harry Palmer

Continue reading “Harry Palmer: Darknosis scientific think-tank laboratory investigations at the PhD show.”

Bio-active rubbish dumping; A self-imposed consultation and medical survey with a leading medical healthcare centre in the UK

A survey by eccentric archaeologist, Harry Palmer 2009.

Earlier this year I managed to conduct an independent and self-imposed survey into street litter and poor rubbish dumping habits. With the help from a leading healthcare company here in the UK (which included CAT/CT scan monitoring) – I undertook a study into the potential relationships between my mental state and overall health, daily eating habits and reasons. Although results are still being examined, early indications seem to support my concern regarding wellbeing associated with differing nutritional eating patterns and street-trash discarding actions. In addition, I also looked at any potential disturbances from noise pollution, housing provision demands, street billboard advertising by way of pervading psychological nuisance, as well as mapping associations between my regular pedestrian thoroughfare routes, lifestyle and employment schedules, mobile phone usage and seemingly ad-hoc phone calls and ‘demands’ – as external trigger factors for example. The following article introduces some of the key reasons why I initiated this independent consultation (upon myself).

According to a trusted vascular specialist, it is hoped that the report might be made into a televised documentary highlighting problems concerning rubbish on our streets linked with challenging mental health and socio-economic factors and commercial expediency.


Arguably one of the more obvious elements that can be traced in any public location is discarded debris, namely litter. Highly selective in regard to what we observe and how we react, the remnants of everyday located ‘rubbish’ is usually seen as abject and unsightly, often ignored and somewhat accepted. The scattering of unpleasant street detritus haphazardly lingers in seemingly random locations, reappearing on many (non) pedestrian routes. It doesn’t go away.

I have, for sometime, been puzzled by public litter. Is such rubbish indicative of an ‘attitude’ – a person with no apparent concern, dropping trash as they determine? I remember the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaigns that used to be prevalent on buses and banners, TV ads etc…, reminding us all to put litter in the bins provided – bins that attempted to be in logistic public positions in thoroughfares, yet evidently many misplaced for effective trash dumping. Take-away consumers for example, after completing quick fix meals, have often relocated elsewhere, away from the strategic bin that would otherwise have been useful. Food containers are easily disposed of, dropped onto floors, thrown over walls, out of car windows, placed on sidewalks – basically dumped with little or no concern, perhaps a reaction to not having a bin close-by?

Continue reading “Bio-active rubbish dumping; A self-imposed consultation and medical survey with a leading medical healthcare centre in the UK”

Danny Smith’s Guide to 2008 Pt1

Danny Smith was writing lots of guides to Brum for the Itchy guide, last year. It never happened, so we present his guide to the past in a number of parts:

Readers World
137 Digbeth
B5 6DR
Sure you could go to Borders or WH Smiths who, I’m sure, will always have exactly what you want in clean, well lit, and organised sections. But who wouldn’t rather want to lose half a day rooting around huge Health and Safety defying stacks of second hand sci-fi and fantasy books, in a shop that resembles a cross between a Harry Potter set and a reclusive geeks bedroom? The worlds is a richer place for having shops of this type of uniquely British oddness and consider it your patriotic duty to pop in and grab a musty bargain.
Tues-Sat, 10am-5.30pm

Snobs Nightclub
29 Paradise Circus
B1 2BJ
Big Wendsdays at Snobs is kinda like the Rolling Stones; just when you think it is due to die, a new generation discovers it and it becomes even more popular than before. The décor hasn’t changed since my parents were enjoying the 50p shots and rutting in the toilets. Most nights have more in common with Caligula’s Vomitariums where the glass walls drip with sweat while you struggle through the elbows of a bouncing crowd. Indie classics in the main room and 60’s soul and funk in the better smaller one; dancing shoes are a requirement. Be warned the queue can get pretty big so check out the Flapper and Firkin for Q jumper tickets.
For details check out http://www.snobsnightclub.co.uk/

Cramps? Best Brum gig evah?

Birmingham Music Archive is teaming up with BiNS to find out What has been the best gig ever to take place in the city and what was/is the best venue. Jez from the BMA is kicking things off, argue the toss here and in the forum.

My favourite gig was The Cramps at the Birmingham Odeon. My memory is not what it was but the gig was either April 25th 1984 or April 30th 1986, I’m tending to go for the 86 one due to me age, but anyway.. For those of you who don’t remember the Odeon before it became a 400 screen cinema, selling 2 tonne bags of sugar to kids who need no encouragement whilst showing Rambo 55, it was a fabulous art deco music and cinema hall.

For the gigs, there was a huge orchestra pit which doubled as the mosh pit (well not if you were watching Ultravox or The Thompson Twins), then those lovely plush velvet seats and above, a balcony were assorted punters would cover the crowd below in piss and beer – luckily they were often indistinguishable from one another!

So there I am, fancying myself as a bit of a psychobilly, knocking around at the Barrel Organ, Powerhouse, Zig Zags and all the others when news comes through of The Cramps coming to town to play at the Odeon. Immediately it’s THE ODEON! Who on earth has booked The Cramps to play there? Have they not seen or heard of the mayhem that normally occurs when the play. This reputation was justified. For me The Cramps remain one of THE live music bands. Raw, threatening, chaotic but always brilliant.

As I say above, my memory is no longer functioning as it used to, but this night The Cramps were late on for some reason and literally ripped through the set. Main man Lux carried around the entire audience, climbing right to the top of the pa system, Poison Ivy machine gunning the crowd with her guitar, legs akimbo, hardly, if any, talk by the band and then 30 minutes later they were gone.

Now I wasn’t in the mosh pit that night for some strange reason but they were going wild, calling for encore stamping their feet and so on. But as it became clear The Cramps weren’t returning they had nothing to really vent their anger on. For us in the seats it was different.

I’d never felt such adrenaline or emotion or basic wildness in a live crowd before. As the shouting got louder I can just recall a shower of seats reigning down towards the stage, missing it by some distance and nearly decapitating several hundred pyschobillies (or at least their quiffs). It was over in minutes but seemed like forever, even as everyone filed outside it was as if the whole crowd had become feral.

For the music but mainly for the crowd I think this has to rank as one of my all time favourite gigs in Birmingham. If anyone else was there and would like to dampen my recollection or even agree with it then get it on here and at www.birminghammusicarchive.co.uk, and then add your own best gigs/venues

Nirvana at the Barrel Organ, Oasis at The Jug Of Ale, anyone remember the Birmingham Rock festivals of the mid 70’s, saw the Pistols or Dexy’s at Barberella’s or Rum Runners, Eek-a-Mouse at the Porsche Club anyone?