11 THINGS (AND MORE) I LEARNED FROM 'BIRMINGHAM: THE BRUTIFUL YEARS'
Prompted into action by the demise of our Central Library, Mary Keating, Jenny Marris and John Bell formed the Brutiful Birmingham action group in opposition to the ongoing destruction of some of Brum's — depending on how you see them — most architectural significant Brutalist and Modernist buildings. As they ready themselves to oppose major changes to our city wall-like Ringway they have also produced a book — Birmingham: The Brutiful Years, published by the Modernist Society. It's a profound paean to an ever changing city but also a fact-finders goldmine. Here's 11 (and more) things I learned from reading the book and these are just the tip of the iceberg...
1. Concrete on The Rep theatre is textured to resemble tree bark. Concrete was used because it was the only material that could allow for the curved and glassy facade, which resembles the flounces of a theatre curtain and allows light to flood the interior.
2. An abstract mural by John Poole in the Rotunda, which once sat in the banking hall of Lloyds Bank — original occupiers of the ground and first floors — is still partially visible in Zara today. Many other works by Poole can be seen in churches across the city, including St Dunstan's, Kings Heath, where his 17 feet of welded steel won the Otto Belt medal for sculpture in 1969.
3. James Roberts, designer of the Rotunda, wasn't so keen on his contemporary, Herbert Manzoni — the 1935 to 1963 City Engineer and the man most blamed for demolishing many of Birmingham's most beautiful historical buildings. Roberts, who also designed the Ringway Centre — which curves along Smallbrook Queensway and the inner ring road — said of Manzoni "he had no interest in architecture... He wasn't interested in people or pedestrians." Roberts' daughter, Sarah, recalls her father often predicting a time when there would be gridlock in the city as a result of Manzoni's bulldozery.
4. Such was the Rotunda designer's draftsmanship that he used to draw maps of the theatres of war for TheBirmingham Post & Mail. Serving in the Home Guard he was responsible for keeping watch for enemy bombers from a tiny shed built on top of the Council House clock tower. You can still see the little spot where he would have stood, today. This experience inspired the idea of a watch tower at the heart of Brum — the result was Rotunda.
5. Roberts began his company in a room in his mother's house in Kings Heath. The architecture practice which became James A Roberts Associates grew until it took up most of the top two floors of Rotunda itself.
6. Roberts had drawn in plans for a revolving restaurant at the top of Rotunda. When that didn't work out he incorporated those plans into his designs for St John's Beacon, in Liverpool. Again, cost-cutting put pay to it. The two towers were the commercial achievements of which he was most proud.
7. Just like John Madin's Central Library, which the designer had intended to be finished in stone, Roberts wanted a stone facade for the Ringway Centre, a vision of white horizontal bands to emphasise the sweep of the curve along the roadway. The Rotunda too was designed to be faced in marble, but cost-cutting meant developers plumped for cheaper glass mosaic.
8. There was a race to build Cleveland Tower and Clydesdale Tower first. The two Sentinel blocks near 'Pagoda Island' were being built by Sikh and Irish construction workers respectively. The Sikh team (pictured in TheBirmingham Evening Mail, with the Irish in the background) were two stories up when this photo was taken in 1969, but they started building earlier. I haven't worked out who won.
9. There are 559 concrete columns supporting Spaghetti Junction with 13.5 miles of elevated roads across five levels, spanning a river a canal and a railway.
10. Architect Richard Seifert, the man behind the divisive Centre City Tower, also designed our almost universally adored and Grade II listed Alpha Tower. He also did London's famous Centre Point and Tower 42, commonly known as the NatWest Tower.
11. No.55 Temple Row, home to CBRE, was originally the Bank of England building. It was designed by Fitzroy Robinson & Partners in 1969, the team that also did London's iconic Sampson House. No. 55 was one of three similar Bank of England buildings, the others in Newcastle and Manchester.
Somewhat unbelievably, apparently it’s Jeff Bridges who is attributed the much-known idea, “The way to change the world is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community”. If the recent Twitter mobilisation against Brum naysayers is anything to go by, you lot do it in spades, so this will be right up your alley.
This year focusing on the theme of ‘my local area’, the University of Birmingham’s Festival of Social Science is back between October 22 and November 13, with diverse topics exploring the future of the UK high street, sexuality and race in Birmingham and misogyny in politics.
Free physical and virtual events, you're invited to play an active part in discussions on how people feel connected to their local areas and communities, and how development in education, representation and policy can support social change. Scandals, coups and U-turns in politics mean we’re eyeing up political and social change in all aspects of community, and there’ll be several events addressing the big issues, such as ‘levelling up’ policies, the future of care and migration post-Brexit, as well as more local and city-focused issues around education and crime, business, and sexuality and race..
The Festival’s flagship event will be an evening exploring the phenomenon of Peaky Blinders, and the impact of the television series on our city. From the inter-war working class experience, to the endearing — and much-attempted, much-failed — accent, the show has portrayed life in Birmingham in new ways. Local historian,writer and bona fide legend, Carl Chinn, will join other speakers to explore how close this is to the reality of Brummies’ lives at the time, and what effect the show has had on the city and region. Fascinating stuff to understand this Brummie sensation.
A couple of weeks ago I went to watch Grease with cocktails as hosted by Brum booze superstars The Wine Events Company. The entire cinema didn't stop smiling throughout the glorious pandemonium, as the musical classic was paused at intervals while daft Brummies in wigs and bad American accents distributed powerful drinks alongside reasons why they are linked to the mise-en-scène. It's a night out unlike anything else in the city, a genuinely lolzy experience from an effortlessly likeable team.
With halloween fast approaching their next movie up is on the blood-curdling side, this time quite rightly with red wine at the fore. Join vin geek Tony 'Van Helsing' Elvin for the 1931 incarnation of Dracula at the Crescent Theatre on Saturday, October 29. It's £26 a head which includes five glasses of the good stuff, the movie itself, daft goings-on aplenty and actually interesting movie trivia throughout.
Towards the end of November and again with wine as the hero slurp of the night, The Electric Cinema — Britain's oldest working picturehouse — plays host to classic 80’s horror comedy An American Werewolf in London (pictured). One can only imagine how Tony will dress for this one — on Saturday November 24, tickets are from £27 each again with five glasses of excellent wine all with a different story to them. If their sellout Lost Boys screening is anything to go by, tickets will be hot property.
CHRISTMAS: BOOK IT NOW
Long range forecasters are predicting yet another Christmas in December of this year which means around about now is a good time to start mulling over the infamous work festive feast. The team behind modern Chinese playground Lulu Wild, hidden Thai gem Siamais and vibey canalside beaut Aluna have compiled three Christmas menus all of which quite rightly swerve crowbarred turkey dishes. Bravo.
Tucked away in Oozells Square behind the Brindleyplace canals, Siamais are offering a three course a la carte at £45 per person. Having been a few times I'd go big on their shellfish with the pan-fried scallops to start and the soft shell crab to follow, but the mushroomy main event on the veggie options (enoki, shimeji and oyster mushrooms served in a chill paste with jasmine rice) looks like a barnstormer too. They also have two-course banquet options from £39.95.
If bright neon lights, hidden rooms, Instagrammable everything and deep down dim summery is more your thang then Lulu Wild are offering up three menus with prices that, paid up front, will ensure the vegetarians don't feel stung — as is often the way. The £40 veg option rises to £50 for meat and £65 when seafood slides in. Between compulsory photos of the unbelievably aesthetic dim sum expect one of the best restaurant DJs in the city. There will be dancing.
And finally, weirdly, I've never eaten at Pan-Asian cocktail den Aluna but it has all the same snappable snippets as Lulu Wild plus crispy duck bao (pictured) which might be the best three words ever combined. Three courses there are £45 a head.
Each venue has private hire options. Book through firstname.lastname@example.org and mention 'I Choose Birmingham' to get a free welcome drink for every attendee.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
New Birmingham-made spirits brand, Beaufort Spirit, are touring the city with pop-up bars from now until the end of November, culminating in a month-long Stirchley residency in December at Kong.
Distilled at Langley Green in the Black Country, Beaufort's gin and rum are the brainchildren (I've made up a word there) of Leo Crabtree, who moved to Birmingham to study Medieval and Modern History at UoB, which he narrowly avoided failing whilst immersing himself in the city’s independent music scene.
Music continues to be a part of Leo’s life, but in 2013, holed up in the nation's second city (London), Leo started ‘BeauFort London’ – a platform for his fragrance products that launched their first collection of ‘niche’ fragrance in 2015.
But it was in 2016, noting the historic parallels of fragrance production and that of spirituous liquors, that Leo began work on creating a gin which combined the twin arts of distillation and perfumery, developed with Langley, where some of the best gins in the world are made. The stills at Langley are some of the oldest working copper gin stills, some of them dating back to the early 1800s.
Beaufort's overproof, smoked gin arrived on the market in 2020 and has since garnered awards and bagged 98 points in a blind tasting at the International Wines and Spirits Competition. That year also saw the arrival of ‘Three Tides’ rum, the fractious younger sibling to the gin, which blends a powerfully aromatic, ester-rich Caribbean rum with a smoked botanical infusion from British shores.
The pop-up bars, which will include free tasters, commence at The Plough (Harborne) tomorrow (October 14) before appearances at Attic in Stirchley on both October 23 and November 26, Caneat on November 5, Bayley’s of Bromsgrove on November 11 and 12 and Loki Christmas Wine & Spirits Fair at Millennium Point, November 19.
They will then return to Stirchley, every weekend in December with a takeover and bar residency at Kong, which is owned by the same people as Stir Stores.
Honorary Brummies are as mad about the city as its natives; perhaps more so. So with the latest influx of students and the much-touted fact that Brum is the youngest city in Europe, the Eurovision Gods may not have chosen us, but we’re still the choice for hot young talent.
Whether it’s for work, study or love, many flood to Brum and stay, making it the diverse and eclectic mix of people we know and love. The conditions are perfect for creatives to thrive, and that’s where the new Moved exhibition on October 21 aims to show you the gains from being such a flippin’ great place to move to.
When Moved founders Kate (the Crafty Brum, who’s Australian) and Gustavo (a graphic designer, originally from Venezuela) found themselves thriving in creative fields, they noticed the impressive talent of their fellow creatives in the city, many of whom had also chosen Birmingham to settle and develop their talents.
Bringing together creatives from all over the world – from as close as Wales, through to Europe and every continent – the exhibition showcases their work and explores why they have chosen Birmingham as their home, celebrating the city and all it has to offer. From Argentinian mural artist, Boxi Trixi, who came to Birmingham for love, to Qatari, Mahnoor Aka Noori (work pictured), who shunned London for Brum during lockdown, each artist has a fascinating story to tell about how they came to choose Birmingham, and how they interact with the city as part of their work.
Visit for free at The Engine Room on Floodgate Street on Friday October 21. Tickets
Not one, not two, not three — this could go on for a while — but 26 breweries will descend upon Attic in Stirchley to help celebrate their fourth birthday, November 26. The Attic-ites are releasing the names of those present on their Instagram with the first nine including Brummies Birmingham Brewing Co and (not technically a brewery) Wine Freedom. Party food will be provided by winter warmers Pietanic and West Midlands Jerk Centre. Your £10 ticket gets you entrance, a festival glass and your first beer too. There's an afternoon and an evening slot to pick from. More
KENTUCKY FRIED CHRISTMAS
Just as Christmas for us is somehow synonymous with currywurst so too is the festive season in Japan aligned intrinsically with KFC.
The story can be traced back to one man: Takeshi Okawara, the enterprising manager of the country's first KFC, opened in Nagoya in November 1970. Having overheard an expat saying that they missed eating turkey for Christmas, and that chicken was the next best option, Takeshi started a one-store mission to make Christmas a KFC thing.
These days, over 50 years later, December is the busiest month for the fast food chain in Japan with daily sales at some branches skyrocketing to 10 times the norm and the now famous Christmas dinner packages contributing — get this — one-third of annual sales in the country. Thinking there might be something in this, Brum's own sake and Japanese cocktail den, Shibuya Underground, are putting yet another nail in turkey's coffin with the launch of their own KFC Christmas tie-up.
For one night only (December 16) and at £17.50 per person they'll serve you a glass of sake and some KFC fried chicken followed by a 'by the glass' menu of Japanese rice wine. Get yourself a new tradish. Book
Some of the most talented women in Birmingham's hospitality scene will combine for a one-night-only cracker of an evening at The Wilderness, October 30. Chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants, Masterchef finalists, globally recognised mixologists and sommeliers par excellence will help raise proceeds for Birmingham's Centre for Women, Anawim, and The Burnt Chef Project, which fights mental health stigma in hospitality. More —
How about this for another good thing: The Active Wellbeing Society and Incredible Surplus are teaming up for The Friday Night Takeaway, a 'pay-as-you-feel' three course meal made from surplus food and collected, by you, from Kings Heath Community Centre, every Friday. Proceeds go towards Big Feed community cafes. More —
Superstar astronaut – and some-time musician – Chris Hadfield, is heading to Birmingham Symphony Hall in June of next year. From £28.50 —
Rob Kemp's The Elvis Dead — The Evil Dead played out with altered Elvis songs — will show at Kings Heath's Hare & Hounds, November 10, £11. This vid is a handy snapshot of the feel good fun you're in for. —
Stirchley Wines by now legendary beer advent calendars are now available to pre-order from their webstore. £125 —
Tickets go on sale tomorrow (Friday) at 9am for Iron Maiden at Utilita Arena (July 4). Then, at 10am, they go on sale for Pink at Villa Park (on June 13) and Olly Murs at Resorts World Arena (May 4). —
Tickets are on sale now for The SpongeBob Musical at Hippodrome from April 11 to 15 April. From £20 —
Screen B14 — the Kings Heath movie team — will be returning October 29 with a screening of Beetlejuice at Cambridge Road Methodist Church. Just a fiver
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Claire Hawkins
We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.