We’re due a right good knees up this summer after the last two, don’t you think? The light’s peeking into our mornings and evenings again, there’s a little bit of sun to warm the cockles, and finally, we think: let’s go out. Perfect, then, that the Birmingham 2022 Festival has arrived to service this very urge. Because, in case you missed it, the Commonwealth Games is coming this summer, with new buildings and sites beginning to spring up and a typically Brummie repressed excitement for it all. Beyond welcoming sporting amazons to our fine city, there’s a veritable feast of cultural events planned for this spring and summer as part of the Festival. It’s one of the largest ever cultural programmes to surround the Commonwealth Games, speaking volumes about the wealth of talent we can mine here in the West Mids.
With 200 events running from March to September, including grant-supported community projects, this frolicking festival of all things Brum includes a spectacular open-air show, immersive experiences, a giant city centre forest, exhibitions and the city’s biggest outdoor tap lesson. We’ve found some of the top picks to kick off proceedings, but the huge list of what’s on is now live and worth a browse, with much to see on a quick diversion around town during the fest.
Opening the Festival, Brum’s rich library of human stories will be brought alive in Wondrous Stories, an open-air performance in Centenary Square, on 17 March (St Patrick’s Day, if you needed reminding and something to replace the missing parade). Created by Kevin Finnan, artistic director of Motionhouse, an internationally renowned professional dance-circus company, and choreographers Sonia Sabri and Jamaal Burkmar, this is going to be a whopper of a sight in the lit up square, with digital and live performances combined. Conveniently taking place next to the night-time stunner, the Library of Birmingham, a giant book will spill out its characters and stories under the night sky, with over 300 performers creating an immersive, tumbling extravaganza of acrobatics, aerial displays and dance, to the sound of Brum’s Choir With No Name and live spoken word performances. The show is free and un-ticketed, with a total of seven performances: the launch at 7pm on March 17, and shows at 6.30pm and 8.30pm from March 18 to 20. It’ll also be live streamed on Friday 18 March, so you can rewatch or stream it nostalgically, like the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. This is our 2012, guys. More info
Described as a ‘sonic love letter to the city’, Brum’s best artists have united to create a new album, On Record, exploring what the city means to them through different styles, genres and moods. It’s a concept album, but we don’t need sleeve notes because we’re Brummies, we just get it. With original songs written and recorded by the likes of SANITY, UB40 and Dapz on the Map, the album will be available on limited vinyl release and across all streaming platforms from 18 June. From Afrobeat to Asian electronica, explore the highs and lows of the city and spot the landmarks throughout the album: Sparkhill at midnight, Bedders Chip Shop on the Coventry Road and the ever-changing city skyline (‘blimey, that’s gone up fast’) are just some of the name drops. Comprising artists from the cultures and communities of the Commonwealth that call Brum their home and in collab with Birmingham Music Archive, this is Brum. Accompanying the release, there’ll be a new podcast and live event series, In Conversation, at Symphony Hall, featuring discussions with the musicians and producers, as well as live performances by the album artists. Starting on March 27, all events will also be broadcast on BBC WM and are available to attend in person.
Time Travel Tram
You might not actually be able to enjoy travelling the cross-city tram in all its completed glory by Games time, but you can travel back in time (by our calculations, not long before the Broad Street work started…). Passengers on board the West Midlands Metro between Wolverhampton and Birmingham will get to experience the world’s first ever 5G immersive experience on a tram. Something to shout about for our beleaguered trams, there. Created by immersive storytelling companies, Surfing Light Beams and Crossover Labs, Time Travel Tram transforms the view from the window into a 3D display, exploring people and places from our region’s history. The Tram combines archive film, photographs and objects with 3D-generated worlds, accompanied by an original soundtrack from local artists to remind you you’re still in the Black Country, 2022. Luckily not a 4D experience, industry, civil rights, changing High Streets and old fashioned entertainment all feature, giving you some new sights and scenes to overhaul your usual commute as you venture through time to (or from) the Black Country. Running all the way through the festival from March 31 to September 30, the Tram runs both ways between town and Wolverhampton St George’s — it's the number 35. It’s the normal price of a ticket for travel, and will be available during normal operating hours, though choose your journeys wisely, it’s Wolves vs. Villa on April 2. Do not go reminding them of history. Start your travels here.
Key To The City
More sought after than a Moseley Park key, we’re talking the Key to the City. Like Oprah’s prizes, you can have the key, and you can have the key, and you can have the key… For this participatory public art project, Paul Ramírez Jonas’s Key to the City will bestow the Freedom to Birmingham — an honour usually reserved for the big players — to any and all of us Brummies. The civic ornamental honour has been reimagined as a master key, able to unlock more than 20 sites across Brum. Having previously taken place in New York City, this will be the European premiere of the project, so aren’t we a lucky bunch to get Birmingham unlocked? Over the summer anyone will be able to receive or award the Key, and pass it on to whoever they flippin’ well want to. They will be given ‘keys’ to a variety of locations (not all confirmed yet, kicking the rumour mill into overdrive, but the sky-high terrace at 103 Colmore Row — pictured — will be one of them). Hints of what you can unlock include rooftop gardens, museum displays not available to the public, and other secret locations us civvies can’t get into. Probably not BT Tower, though. Never BT Tower. The key passing takes place May 28 to August 7 and we have the good people of Fierce to thank for this bit of brightness. Start making friends now.
Find the full programme of Birmingham 2022 Festival events online, and kick off proceedings in Centenary Square on 17 March.
GLASS IS IN SESSION
Two of the city's most extraordinary creatives are behind a one-off night of food, drink and chat in honour of International Women's Day. For Starters is an intimate evening of conversation from the visionary mind of Kaye Winwood and hosted by author, Dr Gemma Commane. Kaye, for those who don't know, is the woman behind some of the city's most stirring gastronomic experiences, often pushing boundaries and questioning where the line might be, if anywhere, when gender and sex cross over into food and drink. Gemma, meanwhile, is part of the collective behind Bean Flicks Festival (Birmingham's first ethical, feminist, queer and kink-positive porn festival) and the author of Bad Girls, Dirty Bodies: Sex, Performance and Safe Femininity. The night will be hosted at Kaye's new Gulp kitchen and studio, in a beautiful listed building on the Jewellery Quarter's Spencer Street. The 10-person meal, the menu for which is under wraps, will include a chat about some of the key topics in Gemma’s book. What Kaye has revealed to ICB, however, is just one of the drinks involved: "What we're going to achieve is an edible table landscape, of sorts, incorporating art in a big way," she says. "One drink we'll serve will come in a finger glass [pictured] designed by Nuala Clooney and myself. It'll include ice, gin, lemon syrup and a pipette of blackberry liqueur which, when applied will, perhaps, raise questions and discussions about menstruation." Other artists, including Sarah Taylor Silverwood, Leah Carless, Siân Tonkin and Joanne Masding, will have work present. £40
‘I believe the children are our future’, sang Whitney. She’s bang on, when you consider what they can do when they’re handed the reins and asked to re-imagine what the grown-ups have always done. The CBSO did just that, giving nine 16-21 year olds keys to the concert hall and giving them carte blanche to create a unique concert experience– and they’re challenging (and subverting, as all youth should) our expectations of what an orchestral concert can be, with Triptych. Taking place in Symphony Hall on Saturday 12 March, the clever young ‘uns have devised three ‘rooms’ you’ll experience— think music reflecting the dimmer switch level of your mood lit party rooms. No need to get up and move; each room comes to you in the Hall. And hold onto your seats, this concert has an actual DJ. Soaring from a sonic depiction of the Northern Lights– tranquil and atmospheric– room two moves through dramatic bass and percussion (getting brighter) and everyone’s favourite ‘it’s actually super cool’ section, brass. Ending with a hip-hop and classical mash-up, the final room shows the future is bright for the concert experience. In fact, it’s a party. Birmingham based DJ, Mr Switch, who performed the Concerto For Turntables & Orchestra in 2011 at the BBC Proms, will play this same piece with the CBSO in the final room of the night. Triptych is on 12 March at 7pm, and tickets are just £10 (£5 for students). Book
WINE AND WOMANHOOD
You can’t argue with science, and apparently women have better senses for wine tasting than men. Shockingly, though, women remain the underdog in the wine world. Ringing the changes where they can, Digbeth favourites, Wine Freedom, are championing female winemakers this month for International Women’s Day. And to make a proper show of it, they’re hosting an art exhibition that celebrates — yep — womanhood, with a four-week display at the Digbeth venue. ‘The Femme’, a collection by artist, Katie Fishlock, focuses on themes such as gender, sexuality and identity. Featuring both large-scale paintings and works on canvas, she considers femininity in all its glory and challenges. Katie says, “‘The Femme’ is inspired by a period where I felt really disconnected from my femininity; as such the works illustrate the delights – and challenges – femininity brings with it. I think it’s really important to start and keep these kind of conversations alive”. Alongside Katie’s work, Wine Freedom will also be showcasing four female winemakers throughout the month, sourced from the USA, Austria and the South of France. They’ll be spotlighting one per week, with a dedicated wine tasting each weekend for you to sample and Katie’s ‘The Femme’ as a conversation-sparking backdrop. They’ll also have 100 limited edition House wine bottles on sale, featuring a piece of Katie’s artwork— really, we all just choose a wine by the nice looking label, right? ‘The Femme’ runs March 4 to 27. Book
CARLO CRIVELLI: WHAT THE HELLI?
Hard not to love stuff like this. Carlo Crivelli was an oddball Renaissance painter who banged out some seriously weird work in the 1480s and 1490s. His 'thing' is messing with your head using trompe l'oeil, or optical illusion to you and I. He's basically big into visual trickery which, given he was tinkering with Venetian brains back in the mid 15th Century, is sort of cool. Pictured is The Vision of Blessed Gabriele and nobody really knows what galaxy Mary and the boy Jesus are appearing from in the sky, what the hell the hanging fruit is all about and, perhaps most peculiarly (and you may need to zoom in), what's going on with that other friar's massively oversized head, just to the right of old handsome chops's left elbow. These are the least of your worries when you wander around Ikon's extraordinary exhibition of Crivelli's creepy compendium of work, which has arrived in Brum from the V&A, the National Gallery and that there Vatican. So if unnerving perspectives, overlong fingers and early examples of 3D tech are your thing, you have until May 29 to get twisted. Free
WHAT TO DRINK AND WHERE: VOL 8
Brum's bartender-in-chief, Robert Wood, with this week's top tipple...
"Ikigai: a cultural concept that's your reason for being, but also a small cocktail bar, hidden away up an unassuming staircase above 1000 Trades, in the JQ. The name should tell you the passion and drive the owners have for their discreet den of Japanese drinking. The menu is presented with a brief explanation as it's essentially an abridged Tokyo tube map. You immediately get a sense of why the bar won Newcomer of the Year at the Top 50 Bars. The owner, Luke, recommends a cocktail named after an area of Tokyo known for its izakaya and vintage stores, Shimokitazawa. It's a Manhattan that's been redistilled with miso and white chocolate, a process requiring high-tech vacuum distillation. The result looks more like a Martini, but has the richness, intensity and full-bodied mouthfeel of the Manhattan. Savoury and sweet with a luscious complexity, it balances everything I really want in a creative adaptation of a classical cocktail."
"It's just so pretty, I don't want to interrupt it," says Olivia, the knowledgable front of houser at Harborne newbie, Hengata. She's talking about the gravadlax (pictured) and she ain't wrong. "I don't want to wake it up," she adds with a whisper. Her enthusiasm for this masterpiece of a starter is contagious. So simple, but with such standout sourcing that every mouthful seems to trump the last. The earthy beetroot blobs counter the punchy horseradish, with the generous wedge of trout smoky and meaty. This is beautiful. But we're getting ahead of ourselves; let's rewind. Uncle Google reckons Hengata is Finnish for 'hang out', and who are we to argue with the oracle of all. The interior is impeccable, tucked towards the back of Harborne's old School Yard — Hengata's neighbours are Boston Tea Party and Holy Moly. The ceilings are tall. Really tall. The open kitchen filling the space with buzz and clamour, it feels a lot like a London restaurant might. If you've been, there are echoes of St John's or, dare we say it, even the Clove Club here. Cocktails are good. A gin sour — dialling back on the sugar to meet our palates — vanished alarmingly quickly, while its whisky sour counterpart disappeared with equal David Copperfieldian gusto. A carafe of Wine Freedom sourced bag-in-a-box blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is the house natural wine and is so good you don't need to look at the punchier price points. Two other starters land almost as effectively as the gravadlax, which Olivia also described as 'Picasso on a plate' — if you're ever looking for a writing job, Olivia, hit us up. The coppa, focaccia, onion jam and infused raisins (£7.50) was, again, simple, but superb — that jam and raisin thingummy stopping both diners dead in their tracks — while a cuminy venison carpaccio was again a triumph, thanks to a gorgeous grape chutney. Whoever's creating these preserves is deep into some serious culinary witchcraft. So far, so bloody brilliant. But! [record scratch, freeze frame]... The mains failed to thrill. The rose veal with apple salsa, samphire, herby butter sauce and confit garlic (£14) is a big hunk of meat that wasn't, but should have been, tenderised. Perhaps the pan wasn't hot enough too, because the schnitzel-ed exterior was crispless, verging on doughy. That's not what they're going for. On the other side of the table, a venison number (yep, we ordered venison twice because we're loose cannons) was somewhat overcooked and, for the first time this meal, wasn't assisted by saucing — the chestnut puree too bland to pedestal the meat. This is all feedback we gave the team and was met with the sort of positivity and grace that makes you proud of the hospitality industry. Every cold dish was a knockout here, but both hot dishes weren't. When — not if — this young team get that sorted, Hengata will make waves. And, until that time, this immaculate independent deserves your hard-earned coin far and above any of its near neighbours. Menu
Bromsgroove Festival is a brand new, two-day celebration of music and street food, from the Digbeth Dining Club lot. June 11 and 12 in (you guessed it) Bromsgrove, early bird adult tickets are £14.95. More —
The always popular cooking classes at Stirchley's LOAF have spaces available for bread basics, sourdough, Thai, thaali, dosa and macarons. Details —
Following two belting pop-ups at Stir Stores, fried chicken crew, House of Hen, will be at Digbeth's The Ruin, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in March. Prove it! —
Harborne's ever so good Qbox are now doing £5 lunches. That's insane. —
This weekend is Birmingham Brewing Company's Heritage Beer Festival. —
It's Kings Heath farmers market on Saturday, if you like Kings Heath and farmers and markets. And Saturdays. —
Terrifying to think the most clicked link in this entire email will definitely be this link to the Serial Killers & Psychopaths talk, at the Hare & Hounds, April 3. You 'orrible bunch. £19.80
WORDS: Tom Cullen
PICS: Ross Jukes (103)
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