New rule: Nobody else is allowed to move away from Birmingham, effective immediately.
Following the sad-making news of the departure of the barbarically talented Kate Jones, (a.k.a The Crafty Brum) to her native Australia, comes word that the eye-catching aesthetics of Abbie Severn are exiting stage left, for a new adventure in Bristol.
Abbie's pencil work is one of the most immediately recognisable art styles in the entire city — often adding flourishes of colour where maybe only she sees them — and Brum will be a smidgen greyer without her. But we're kinda used to that.
"I moved to Birmingham to study Visual Communication and Illustration at Birmingham City University, in 2015," says Abbie. "After graduating I did a year's printmaking Artist in Residence at Parkside, part of BCU, which is where I started documenting Birmingham and more specifically Digbeth.
"When I first moved here, I lived at Eastside, neighbouring Digbeth. It's where I explored the abandoned warehouses, underground canals and the infamous raves. Digbeth is a unique place, it's gritty, industrial and imperfect, and it's been in a massive identity change and gentrification process since I moved here.
"I started documenting this change with on-site drawings, and developing these into the larger scale detailed drawings and screen prints I sell now.
"Drawing my environment was also, in part, trying to find a connection to this city. It's more of a personal project than people realise. Through the Digbeth Project, I have met so many amazing people, and many friends for life, as well as becoming part of its creative community. It's the community that I'll miss the most."
Though Digbeth was her muse, Abbie documented great swathes of Brum, often capturing the skyline as a whole. She had her first solo exhibition of The Digbeth Collection at the Factory Works, in 2021. Since then she has been part of the city's creative fibre, working on client projects, hosting workshops and creating community arts events.
"This year I started 'Gallery Pop Up' at Hockley Social Club," she tells us, "Which sees 10 Birmingham artists hang their large artworks from the beams. This event will continue and I'll be back to advocate for the talent Birmingham has to offer.
"I'm moving to Bristol, for a new job in events. It's the end of my chapter documenting Brum. For now, I'm really looking forward to being closer to my family, in Wales. I'm closing my shop because my artwork will be going into storage and I won't have a studio space for a while.
"My whole practice to date and my identity as an artist is Birmingham. My style has developed as a response to Digbeth and its creative community. So the change feels pretty scary. I'm not sure what work I'll make next, but I'll keep creating and hope the following I have built here will still have an interest in that. A big thank you to Birmingham and everyone that has supported me over my eight years living here."
There is already a huge sale taking place on Abbie's online shop and 'I Choose Birmingham' readers can claim a further 10% off by using the code EXTRA10 at the checkout.
BEANSTALK: BIRMINGHAM BRANCH
If our internet-shaking interview with Alison Hammond wasn't enough to convince you to bag tickets for the Hippodrome's production of Jack and the Beanstalk, then maybe December's ever-increasing sense of Christmas spirit will do it? Hammond, who will play Spirit of the Beans, is just one of an outstanding list of cast members alongside Hippodrome favourite Matt Slack playing Jake Trot — back for his tenth year of stealing the show. Star of stage and screen Samantha Womack is Mrs Blunderbore and Doreen Tipton, fresh from turning on the JQ Christmas Lights, plays Doreen the Cow. Panto dame extraordinaire Andrew Ryan plays Dame Trot, Brummie local Alexanda O’Reilly is in the title role and West-End performer Billie-Kay plays Princess Jill. Featuring stunning sets and costumes from The London Palladium, and bundle-loads of laughs, it's the panto Birmingham’s bean waiting for. Dec 16 to Jan 28
MOSTLY JAZZ ANNOUNCE KOOL & THE GANG
In what feels like the rainiest week since Forrest Gump fought in 'Nam, a much needed moment of sunshine was announced by the extremely lovely people at Mostly Jazz Festival. Here's me thinking nothing could top this year's set by KC & The Sunshine band then KA-BOOM! They go and book Kool & the Gang as one of the headliners for next summer's shindy. One of the most happy-making acts in human history, Get Down On It, Jungle Boogie, Ladies Night (oh what a night), Fresh, Too Hot andCelebration are just few of the floor-fillers you can expect on the Sunday, with DJ Craig Charles — who absolutely smashed it on the main stage, last year — high-energy act Nubiyan Twist and emerging songwriter Cherise also performing that day. Tickets go on general sale tomorrow (Friday, December 8) at 10am for what already looks likely to the defining weekend of summer 2024. Bring it on.
IS IT LEGAL TO MARRY CAKE?
It's been a big ol' year for the Early Bird Bakery boys. Back in March the Kings Heath crew opened their second venue, Perch, at the Citadel and then in summer a well fought Crowdfunder campaign meant they could expand their original digs, to alleviate those out-the-door queues. And, honestly, it couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.
Bring on Christmas and what is becoming something of a tradish, for me certainly, at this time of year. They're taking orders right now for festive cakes and tarts and brownies and entremets (whatever the hell they are), and jeepers has it taken pressure off pud, in my household at least, for the last two years?
Best sellers include the mince pie and pastry big hitters, but I'm painfully caught between the beautiful Biscoff Brownie, pictured above, and this blueberry and lemon burnt basque cheesecake. What's that, you say? I don't have to pick one of the two because, this year, they're doing half size cakes, so you can mix and match different flavours? Gosh all hemlock, they've cracked it!
Full size cakes, for those who flip-flop less than me are, of course, still available, as is delivery to all B-postcodes on December 23 and 24. All items will arrive in presentation boxes or gift wrapped, and you can include a gift message. You can also avoid the £5 delivery fee by ordering for collection from Early Bird or Perch plus, if you're looking for a Christmas gift for an aspiring baker, Early Bird are hosting four bakery classes across the first four months of 2024! More
A SOUL-BOOSTING EVENING OF PURE CHILL
The Polar Express is all well and good, but if you sometimes feel like Christmas is a runaway train and it's heading right for you, well... Same.
The antidote? The much needed sensory serenity of Ex Cathedra's Christmas Music by Candlelight. In the stillness of a church, where candles glow, comes the luminous sound of a choir in quiet harmony.
Ex Cathedra's stirring singers will perform a spellbinding sequence of seasonal favourites, little-known gems, and inspirational new music. Add a selection of readings that capture the mystery — and humour — of Christmas, and you've got yourself an atmospheric and soul-boosting evening of pure chill.
Highlights of this year’s events include works by both of Ex Cathedra’s composers-in-residence, including Liz Dilnot Johnson's Lighten Out Darkness. In this piece the word ‘love’ is sung in Kurdish, Arabic and Tigrinya, the Malvern-based composer – who was winner of the 2022 Ivors Academy composers award – took inspiration from her work with young asylum seekers living in Coventry.
The tour stops locally at Shrewsbury, Hagley, Lichfield, Wolverhampton and Coventry Cathedral (pictured) before finishing with its traditional five night residency at St Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter, December 15 to 20.
"In these distracted times," says Jeffrey Skidmore, artistic director of Ex Cathedra. “We might be forgiven for reconsidering the relevance and importance of Christmas concerts and celebrations. But celebrating peace, love, justice, motherhood, families, giving, goodness, beauty and joy is exactly what the world needs.”
Like the sound of him. You can check out a trailer here and book tickets here. Oh and at the Birmingham concerts (and only the Birmingham concerts), you're allowed to take your own mince pies and flasks of mulled wine! Sound.
REVIEW: THE BODYGUARD
Somehow the genre-bending flexibility of theatre comes across more pronounced than in other art forms. What the hell am I on about? Not entirely sure. I guess what I'm saying is the last time I was at The Alexandra I was bowled over by the intensity and minimalism of 12 Angry Men, a show set entirely in one room. On Monday night, though, I was wowed in equal measure, this time by the unabashed, wall-to-wall pizzazz of smash hit musical The Bodyguard, that jumps from location to location quicker than Kirstie Allsopp and packs more costume changes than your average Gaga gig.
A full throttle thriller with as much unexpected 'com' as there is 'rom', multi-platinum Australian recording artist, Emily Williams, stars as Whitney Houston's Rachel Marron.
As camp as Christmas and with twice as much glitter, the show pivots around the soaring vocals of Williams and Emily-Mae (playing Rachel's sister, Nicki) as they power through a host of classics including Queen of the Night, So Emotional, One Moment in Time, Saving All My Love, Run to You, I Have Nothing, I Wanna Dance with Somebody and one of the biggest hit songs of all time – I Will Always Love You. Mercifully the audience are requested to kindly refrain from joining in with the hits. Wise given Williams was runner-up on Australian Idol before a very successful stint in girl group Young Divas, Emily-Mae matching her though, almost note-for-note. They're not playing games here.
Emmerdale and Hollyoaks actor Ayden Callaghan plays Kevin Costner's Frank Farmer, at times taking the 'straight man' role to almost wooden territory but, to be fair, someone has to keep this show grounded otherwise it would hitch a ride on the first light breeze and surf rainbows for the entire run — which ends on December 31. If you have a girls night out between now and then, crikey, look no further.
With more six packs on display than your average alcohol aisle and enough pyro to fuel a Michael Bay movie there is never a dull moment in this self-aware, often tongue-in-cheek glitz fest. And if the cast occasionally forget what accent they're doing, well, no bother. With entertainment this off the charts, they could be speaking German and it would be just as enjoyable. Book
VINTAGE VENUE, SPARKLING PRODUCTION
There aren't many theatres in the UK where you can enjoy world class entertainment in such an historic venue.
The Old Rep is Britain’s first purpose-built repertory theatre opened in 1913. Grade II listed it's been well-preserved, despite the best efforts of at least one luftwaffe bomb, and it still retains many original features including a mirror requested by Sir Laurence Olivier.
It was, of course, the original home of the Birmingham Repertory Company, who moved to their current site on Broad Street in 1971. What they left, though, has hardly changed, save for any required repairs and modernisations. It's a step back in time and a poignant reminder of the pure beauty of theatres of yesteryear.
What better way to enjoy The Old Rep, then, than in the company of Peter Pan, a character who actually pre-dates the theatre by a decade. It's thought that creator J. M. Barrie may have based the character of Pan on his older brother, David, who died in an ice-skating accident the day before his 14th birthday. His mother and brother thought of him as forever a boy.
Showing now and running up to and including December 31, Peter Pan The Musical follows, naturally, the Darling children, Wendy, John, and little Michael as they embark on a voyage to Neverland. Here they encounter a host of surprises from fantastical fairies and a carnivorous croc, to a pack of pugnacious pirates led by the infamous Captain Hook.
Watch on as Wendy and her brothers (with you in tow) navigate the skies, flying over oceans to the world of eternal youth, joining Peter and his band of mischievous Lost Boys on a journey that'll remind you of what it is to be a child again. Take your kids if you have them, this promises to be a true gem. Tickets
DECKER THE HALLS
Ah, the 80s. Even people who weren't around admit it was the best decade. Sure there was the all-consuming Debbie-downer of a childhood spent in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, but there was also T'Pau, and the safety blanket that Carol Decker's voice alone could intercept a Soviet nuke. That woman sang down the Berlin wall, as I remember it. Decker, DJ Gary Davies, Five Star's Deniece Pearson and — get this — Queen of the 80s herself, Kings Heath's Toyah "Thunder in the Mountains" Willcox, will all be present at Symphony Hall for what promises to be Birmingham's best New Year's Eve shindig. Alongside producer Johnny Kalifornia (what a name that is, by the way) you'll party to a specially curated mastermix and watch on as the brilliant Sounds of the 80s dancers recreate classic scenes from the era's films and music vids. Expect electro-pop, preposterous shoulder pads, leg warmers and absolute floor-fillers from Wham!, Queen, Prince, Madonna, Whitney and more. £49
DRONE LIGHT SHOW
Experience the sky above Wolverhampton as it becomes the stage for the story of Evolution. Brought to you by Celestial and local experience experts Yuup, this drone light show is an epic-scale theatrical event for all ages. Told through a swarm of mesmerising drones flying in unison, witness the universe unfold, from the humble beginnings of single-cell organisms, to the awe-inspiring reign of the dinosaurs, see our planet blossom and spark your imagination with a story that stirs the soul. Suitable for all ages, make a night of it and get stuck into the magic of the evening with food stalls, fairground rides, and music. Evolution Drone Light Show will be held at Wolverhampton Racecourse, with doors opening 2.5 hours prior to the show so that you can enjoy the food, attractions and music. Expect immersive storytelling of extraordinary proportions. A brand-new narrated show with a tale older than time and a spellbinding original soundtrack.Book now
KINGS AND GNOMES AND BELGIAN FOAMS
I've just spent 25 minutes on the Chouffe Brewery website and now I am well versed in their remarkable history, have a favourite of their four gnome mascots, am subscribed to their email (I mean what idiot subscribes to emails, right?) and am currently listening to their, frankly, bananas Spotify playlists. It's one of those companies it's hard not to immediately warm to.
The same can be said of Kings Heath bar and bottle shop Hop & Scotch (currently CAMRA Birmingham pub of the year 2023 and West Midlands county pub of the year 2023) and their recently opened next door neighbour venue: Houblon.
Houblon — French for 'hop' — opened just over six months ago, specialising in Belgian, German and European imported beers, alongside a small range of traditional cider and perry, spirits and wines. Like Hop & Scotch, it's in a converted shop but with more of a 'traditional' setting and feel to it than its older brother.
If you've not been — or even if you have — the perfect time to get yourself down Institute Road is the weekend of December 8 to 10 when Hop & Scotch will be celebrating their fifth birthday with plenty of top quality real ale, craft keg, and for the first time ever, branded Hop & Scotch merch.
If that wasn't enough, next door at Houblon they'll be showcasing the aforementioned Chouffe brewery, from Belgium. They'll have a range of Chouffe beers on tap and in bottles, with tasting flights available too. They'll be giving away free Chouffe merch, banging out plenty of free cheese, Belgian-style, and just generally being a blindingly good feature of the King's own Heath.
The celebrations will continue (to a lesser extent) for the rest of 2023, but that weekend is "the biggy". And by "biggy" I don't mean head-bangingly intense. I mean comfortably chilled, with just the right amount of added extras to make you feel a bit spoilt. More
Six Young Curators, commissioned by Moseley Road Baths to create a new digital creation inspired by the Baths, have launched a new podcast called Bathcasts. Developed over a six months, the Programme was part of Moseley Road Baths Diving In Project. —
Halesowen news: The excellent Badboy Wings will be serving, erm, wings at Hare and Hounds (Halesowen) every Friday and Saturday up until December 23. They'll be taking over the kitchen permanently from Jan 3 onwards. Prove it —
Colatron, the 100% unofficial photographer of Brum's grizzlier side has a book coming out. This will be electric. More —
The Independent Birmingham Christmas gift guide is a masterpiece, and if you don't buy a SNOBS badge then you are no longer invited anywhere. Thanks.
WORDS: Tom Cullen
PICS: Sam Wood (Mostly Jazz)
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