Issue 433
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Cementing my position as 'not even the best drummer in The Beatles', my brother has decided he's now also a writer and has started strong by penning a bloody novel. As much as I want to snap his necklace and chuck him in a dog bowl, it's really very good and uses Brum brilliantly as a backdrop. Here's an excerpt from The Balancing Act, which you can buy on Amazon.
‘Brutalism!’ Brian exclaimed abruptly.
   Dixon almost had a heart attack. ‘Excuse me?’ he replied wide-eyed, looking scared to death. Having a hitman bark the word Brutalism in your general direction was bloody frightening. Various images of torture rapidly ran through his mind, and he wondered whether he was about to be brutalised himself. Christ, this whole murder business was going to be the death of him.
   ‘Brutalism, Paul. Look over there.’ Brian pointed over towards the railway lines. ‘See that? That’s the New Street Station signal box. It’s Brutalism. It’s an architectural style, Paul.’
   ‘Oh. Ok,’ he replied and puffed out a sigh of relief. Sweat was gushing off him.
   ‘I’ll tell you what it is, Paul. It’s beautiful. It’s angry, all straight lines and sharp angles, but beautiful nonetheless.’ Brian had read this in his book, so he knew it to be true.
   ‘I hadn’t considered it, to be honest. I mean, it’s just a signal box, isn’t it?’
   ‘It’s not even that now, Paul. At least, it won’t be. Train movements, they’re all electronically controlled these days, miles from here, by a man in an office somewhere. But the building itself? Bloody beautiful. Birmingham was famous for its Brutalist buildings once, Paul. We had dozens of them, spread about everywhere across the city. And what did we do with them?’
   ‘I don’t know.’
   ‘We knocked the sodding things down, Paul. That’s what we did. We knocked the sodding things down.’

   There was a pause. Paul nodded carefully, pretending to know what was going on, although he had to admit to himself he had absolutely no idea. Why were they talking about a signal box, for God’s sake?
   ‘Take the old library, for example,’ Brian continued.
   ‘The old library.’
   ‘Oh, yes. Right, now I’ve seen pictures of that. Victorian, I think? Very ornate. Very nice.’
   ‘No, Paul. That’s the old old library. Victorian, true, and very grand. It was just up the hill from here. Granted, bloody beautiful. And it’s true, we knocked that sodding thing down too. But I’m on about the new old library. The one after the old old library. A bloke called Madin designed it. A good Brummie lad. And a Brutalist.’
   Dixon shuddered at the word again. Brian continued. ‘All corners and edges and concrete and stuff. It looked like an upside-down pyramid. Bloody beautiful. Or pig ugly, frankly, depending on your point of view.’
   ‘Umm… Right…’
   ‘Yeh. Controversial, you see. That style of building, it splits opinions.’
   ‘I see.’
   ‘But love it or hate it, you had an opinion on it. You just had to. Very interesting piece of work, that library. And what did we do with that one, Paul?’
   ‘I don’t know Brian.’
   ‘We knocked that sodding thing down as well.’
   ‘Erm, right...’

   The pair were still strolling down Hill Street, and Brian thought that to the rest of the world, the two men probably looked like two good pals out for a walk, shooting the breeze. In reality, Dixon was so confused he could have cried.
   ‘And now we’ve got the new new library. All golds and blues and circles and what have you. Interesting. And bloody b...’
   Brian stopped. The book he was reading hadn’t got this up to date. He hadn’t been told whether to think the new building was bloody beautiful or pig ugly. He had no reference point.
   ‘Yeh… bloody Broad Street… that’s where that is.’
   He made a mental note to look up what his opinion was meant to be on the new library. He would need to find a more up-to-date reference book. Later though, when he had a bit more bloody time on his hands.

   Meanwhile, Dixon continued to wonder what the hell was going on. Why was he now discussing library buildings with a contract killer when he was supposed to be arranging a hit on his boss? It was bewildering, and he was sweating more and more. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He needed to get out of there soon, otherwise he was sure he was going to have another panic attack.

   Tragically for Dixon, Brian continued. ‘And then you’ve got New Street Station itself, just over there, Paul. All space age and silver and shiny and what have you. Wall-to-wall gleaming metal. Bloody beautiful. Must be a pain in the arse to polish though, don’t you think?’
   ‘Well, I guess so, Brian, yes.’
   ‘Of course, it didn’t always look like that. Back in the day, you know, in the 1800s, it was a grand old thing. Big hotel at the front, massive old train shed at the back. And what was it?’
   Paul paused and thought carefully. ‘Erm… Beautiful?’ He dared.
   ‘Damn right, Paul. Bloody beautiful.’
   Dixon calmed down a little. He’d spotted the pattern. It seemed buildings were bloody beautiful and then we knocked the sodding things down. He could actually add something to the conversation now. Relieved, he waited for the next question.
   ‘And that lovely 1800s station, Paul, what do you think we did with it?’
   ‘Umm… We knocked the sodding thing down!’ asserted Paul.
   ‘Correct, Paul, correct.’ Brian offered a smile in Dixon’s direction. Paul was suddenly feeling much better.
   ‘And so, we built another one. Nineteen sixties this was. Brand new station. And what was it, Paul?’
   ‘Bloody beautiful!’ Paul stated, triumphantly.
   ‘No! Absolutely not; it was a total shithole! Christ, man, did you never go there? Dear God, that place! It was one of the nine circles of hell! Even the rats moved to Wolverhampton.’
   ‘Oh, right, sorry…’ Paul whispered weakly. Perspiration appeared on his brow once again.
   ‘Oh, indeed. Thankfully, we knocked that sodding thing down too, Paul. And now we’ve got that shiny old place. There it is, look, sparkling in the sunlight. Bloody beautiful. Sort of. I mean, in fairness, it does just look like it’s been smothered in tin foil, but it’s futuristic. Resembles a spaceship of sorts, like the UFO out of Mars Attacks. You’d be forgiven for thinking that if you ventured inside you’d get probed up the arse while you’re in the queue at Boots. And then there’s the weirdest thing: when you want to leave, you can’t. There’s something like four hundred and twelve different exits, but none of them are in the same place as they were yesterday. All very strange.’

   They stopped walking for a moment and stared at the metal-clad building, gleaming in the summer sun.
   ‘Beautiful,’ Brian stated again, but this time with some sort of finality. That was enough small talk, he thought. It was clear Dixon didn’t know anything about buildings, so the discussion was fruitless.
   With a final flurry, Brian added, ‘Of course, the trains are all still cancelled, mind, the arseholes. But some things never change, eh? Anyway, to business… Paul, tell me your story.’
The Balancing Act, by Matthew Cullen, is available on Amazon at £9.99 in paperback and £3.21 on Kindle.


A West Midlander has taken mayor Andy Street's 2020 vision for the future of Brum's transport network and "filled the gaps".

Stourbridge-based Liam, who's 25, is something of a transport enthusiast and even taught himself how to use Illustrator to produce his more detailed take on where we, theoretically, could go with our trams, trains and buses. Given the landscape-shaped nature of the enormous finished map, you'll need to shuffle on over to our website to see the entire design in all its glory.

"When the mayor released his vision in map form a few years ago," says Liam "I was excited by it. But I quickly realised it wasn't perfect. I'm not saying my version is, but hopefully it offers more detail and a bit more thought. I took Andy Street's vision as inspiration — used the same routes, the same destinations and the same terminuses, but I've filled the gaps, so to speak. I've changed some names of the lines, removed a few things I thought were redundant, changed the look and feel a bit with fonts and icons. I've added the Transport for West Midlands branding and over-layed a Transport for London zonal system."
There are a few little jokes in there too. Liam has tweaked 'Edgbaston Village' tram stop to be named 'Not Edgbaston Village' because he feels it's nowhere near where Edgbaston Village actually is. In fact, if you scroll south on the green line you'll spot he's added 'Actual Edgbaston Village', where he would put a stop of that name, between the Ring Road and the cricket stadium.
Impressive as it is, though, is it pie in the sky? "Well I started making this in August when I felt sort of optimistic about at least some of it being realised. Currently we have the one Metro line [the blue line from Wolverhampton] and Andy Street's proposal includes eight. So yeah, I'd say that a lot of it is pie in the sky which is a shame because we are the second city, it would be great to have something that's comparable to what I've produced. I don't know if £15 billion would cut it though! Perhaps we need to investigate the idea of sprint buses and better bus lane options, if loads of new tramlines are unrealistic?

"We need to compliment what we have, I reckon. It needs to be a cohesive network to get people from A to B. We could do with an Oyster card style system. A modern solution that isn't simply the day saver ticket that sort of does the job, but not quite. We need that tap in, tap out, top up, system.

"But anyway, what do I know? I'm just a bit of a hobbyist and designing this was a laugh"


The bad news is this film isn't quite as good as it thinks it is. The good news is that it thinks it's utterly remarkable, which does leave plenty of room for a seriously strong cinema visit — and, yeah, it will benefit from the silverscreen, MAC and The Electric are both showing it. We're very much not in multiplex territory.

Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker heavily based on director Steven Spielberg's own childhood in 50s and 60s Arizona. Young Sammy falls in love with movies — of course he does — after his parents take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth. Armed with a camera, he starts to make his own films at home, at scouts and pretty much anywhere he can. Therein lies the premise but the backdrop is a family bond fraying at the edges and pretty quickly spiralling towards divorce. It will pluck hard on the strings, in fact, of anyone whose childhood was burned by the tumultuous effects of a failing marriage.

Spielberg, now 76, waited until his parents had died before putting his own story to film and they would, perhaps, thank him for that, such is the gut-punching emotion that plays out, Michelle Williams (above) blindingly good as Sammy's mother, Mitzi, and Paul Dano decent as father Burt. Seth Rogan, meanwhile, plays family friend Bennie with skilled nuance.

There are more than a few moments here of the old Spielberg charm — it often even feels, dare I say it, like something of a companion piece to E.T. — but, given it's semi-autobiographical, Steve-o does well to ease off on those touches, choosing perhaps not to lacquer his own life with potentially misleading moments of magic. But there is magic within, make no mistake.

If you can overlook the moments of well-trodden High School clichés, there's more than enough here to make for a good night out. Possibly not enough for seven Oscar nominations, but you'll leave pleased with your outlay on tickets and snacks. Out tomorrow, January 27


Pretty, right? But not just that. Lulu Wild's dim sum packs both style and substance being the knockout element of both my visits to the Brindleyplace high-end Chinese — and they're going 'all in' on Valentine's Day with three courses for £55. 

The starters include blush dim sum (prawn being the pick of the crop) as well as crispy duck rolls and mushroom with edamame dumplings, while mains has crowdpleasers like Mongolian lamb and roasted chicken in satay. Lulu Wild also specialises in talking points — such is its commitment to both the weird and wonderful when it comes to interior design! The bunny bedecked upstairs armchair, for example, taking on an all the more audacious slant in the year of the rabbit.
Brindleyplace sister site, Siamais, gives V-Day the Thai treatment with three courses and some fizz at £49.99 per person for three courses plus fizz. The enoki, shimeji and oyster mushrooms main, served in a chilli paste with jasmine rice, is one of my favourite veg dishes in that neighbourhood. Both Lulu and Siamais will take a free Polaroid photo of you and your dinner guest to take home, too, all retro like. 

Lastly, Mailbox-based Aluna is pitching in at £45 for three courses and some fizz, or a beer, but you'll do very well to consider their showstopper of a sharing cocktail — 'Couple Goals'. It's a mix of vodka, cherry, lychee, rose, cranberry and strawberry — Instagram at the ready, people. Food options include tofu and mushroom bao, satay scallops, wok-fried ribeye in black bean and gooey, homemade chocolate brownies.  


This is William Byrd — not just the owner of The Renaissance's most badass beard, but also the man thought by many to have been the Shakespeare of music. And you thought that was Chris De Burgh. Leading British choir and early music ensemble, Ex Cathedra, are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Byrd in a special concert at Birmingham Town Hall on Sunday, February 5. Bill lived through brutal times. Haven't we all? Ruled by five very different monarchs he rose to be the leading court composer of his age, whilst deftly managing to compose sumptuous spiritual music in both the Anglican and Catholic traditions. At a time when to be a follower of the "wrong" religion could lead to the death penalty, and himself a fervent Catholic, Byrd seems to have been protected from Protestant backlash by his enormous talent. On the night Ex Cathedra will perform a wide range of his work and will include Thomas Tallis’ legendary 40-part Spem In Alium — a soaring, uplifting and truly monumental piece that has achieved cult status. Tallis, you see, was Byrd's biggest influence, a bit like McCartney was De Burgh's. The performance is informed by recent research into early music by our own Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. £25 (£8 for under 18s)


A gun is sliced up into lace-like fragments, studded with pink gems and re-assembled as camp disco-wear, rendering it useless. Dauvit Alexander’s Walk Like a Man (Sex Crime) was made in response to a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando and it's part of {Queer} + {Metals}, an exhibition at MAC, now. The gallery of objects uses the lens of metalworking to explore the multiplicity of queerness – as identity, lived experience, culture, aesthetic, influences, stories, place, and imagination. I think, but I'm often wrong, it's a celebration of the transformative properties of metal – the way it can be re-shaped has resonance with the fluid nature of queer identities. I think. But either way, it's well worth stopping by between now and April, plus, to mark LGBT+ History Month in February, MAC is hosting a panel discussion which will ask how do ‘queerness’ and metalsmithing intersect? It'll explore ideas of transformation and the way materials and processes can be ‘queered’ or reflect ‘queerness’. San Francisco based artist Rebekah Frank will chair and UK based artist and academic Daniel Fountain (who is writing a book on ‘Queer Craft’) will join exhibiting artists Roxanne Simone and Dauvit on the panel. February 2, free and available online also.


Brum's always hotly contested 'Most Batshit Yet Brilliant Food Event of the Year' award could have an early contender in the shape of The Holy Palate Supper Club. Never a stranger to the left side of the field, Kaye Winwood and Matt O’Callaghan invite guests to their JQ venue (Gulp, pictured) for a night of food and oddity inspired by 1930’s Futurist Cookbook, La Cucina Futurista. In March 1931, Italian Futurists opened a controversial restaurant called The Holy Palate which they believed would remain impressed in the history of the art of cooking, "just as the dates of the discovery of America, the storming of the Bastille... or the Treaty of Versailles were indelibly fixed in the history of the world”. Unlike most of Italy the Futurists revoked the use of pasta, considering it to be heavy and inducing lethargy, preferring instead to use foods and concepts that they believed would arouse energy, vigour and spirit. I've had a peek at the menu and if eating olives, kumquats and fennel hearts to the sound of a roaring aeroplane piques your interest, then this multi-sensory madness is bang right for you. Birmingham needs as many Kayes and Matts as it can get, now more than ever. Envelope-pushing at the toughest of times. Feb 23 & 24, £52.69 pp
Following successful digital performances in 2020 and 2021, including at Brighton Fringe Festival, The Crescent Theatre will host 'The System', by the Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company. It looks proper eerie. More 

Each year Birmingham City Council spends £3bn of our money. Where does it all come from? Where does it all go? In 50 ridiculous minutes using 6,000 gold dominoes and starring a human size bear, Stan's cafe explains it all with new stage show All Our Money. Across Brum from Feb 27   

Take a tour of the JQ's Key Hill and Warstone Lane Cemeteries, followed by a candlelight tour of The Coffin Works, plus a nose around a Victorian gin parlour, all for £26. Feb 5

One for the die hard Brum fanboys: The connecting plate between the two famous claret and blue gas holders that sat near the A38(M), in Nechells, has gone on display at Thinktank. See you there  

City Centre coffee den, Faculty, has invited Brixton roasters, Assembly, for a night of coffee convo and tastings. Feb 9, £8

JQ modern general store, Cash & Cash Co, will host a supper club on the first Thursday of every month and The Mutton Man will be filling the March 2 slot. It's BYOB (bonus!), you can see the menu here (Instagram) and book here
WORDS: Tom Cullen

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"Art will give you crowns in heaven and laurels on Earth, but also, it will tear your heart out and leave you lonely. You'll be a shanda for your loved ones. An exile in the desert. A gypsy. Art's no game! Art is as dangerous as a lion's mouth.
It'll bite your head off."

Uncle Boris, The Fabelmans (2023)

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