Issue 373
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Ever wonder where your twenties disappeared to? Stepping through the side entrance to the newly renovated Rainbow Pub in Digbeth, missing pieces of a lost decade started to trickle back down neural pathways as overgrown as the track atop the unused railway viaduct further down Adderley Street.
I spent countless hours in this Victorian boozer between 2000 and 2010 as my first love affair with Digbeth hit the woozy ‘I can’t stop looking at you, I need to be everywhere with you’ stage.

It’s a truism of ‘English’ life that public houses in many places are still the glue that binds communities together. These are the places where we celebrate, meet, share, grieve, flirt, schmooze, console, laugh… and where we drink the night away amongst friends, lovers, enemies and that old fella who came with the fixtures and fittings when the gaffer bought the place.  
The Rainbow, for me at least, was one such wonderland during that period. All walks of life were here. The street taggers, the city centre office and retail workers, the Custard Factory creatives, BCFC grandad-dad-and-son fan combos, shouty drunks, random music tourists and everyone in between.

It's a testament to the lovably haphazard approach of landlords Fuzz Townshend and Joe Ward that in the years they had the venue up to 2004 the great and good of the creative community from pre-gentrified Digbeth and beyond would come together at The Rainbow during those days to make music, art and mayhem. Reggae sound systems, breakbeat DJ showcases, cutting edge jazz performances, jungle nights, early gigs from indie-rock bands that would go on to become hometown heroes despite being tarred with the despicable ‘B-Town’ tag, live graffiti battles, hip hop cyphers and clashes – it really was a smorgasbord of noise and art, often in the most basic and rawest of terms.
The arrival of Walsall-born promoter Lee McDonald and team signalled a new era for The Rainbow. Emboldened and excited by his Ibiza experience, and with a sharp eye for rising DJ talent as well as spotting a gap in the Birmingham market for hedonistic parties delivered brilliantly and regularly over 15 years, Lee and his team turned this corner boozer into a sprawling global dance brand, absorbing spaces and venues at a turbocharged rate before the empire came crashing down amid a much-reported licence revocation in 2017.

I made plenty of new friends at The Rainbow Pub, one of whom I’m proud to call a best mate for life. I found work managing PR and social media for bands and artists there, and I saw Birmingham’s reputation as a flourishing creative city through a completely new lens from hanging out there. But dry your eyes, mate. Things can’t stay as they are.
We love our nostalgia in Birmingham, we really do. The countless crimes against historic music venues and buildings — with as much value as your Cavern Clubs and your Abbey Roads — cannot be adequately listed in this article. However, one thing in the nighttime industries is a surety. Venues will be built and demolished, bars and pubs will change hands, promoters come and, and ‘scenes’ live and die.

So on that note, important memo time.
The Rainbow Pub, in its new incarnation under the new management of Nick Rendall and Trevean Anderson (Cuban Embassy and Prince of Wales, Cambridge Sreet), is very much about the traditional boozer experience, and very, very much about a live music, good vegan food and quality drinks. If you are Tango orange, have overly defined eyebrows, count Solardo amongst your musical heroes and think a night on the Buds and Jaegerbombs is the pinnacle of going out out, well you’re in for a shock. The first person I meet as I come through the door, is Clem, a cool, young and already experienced bar manager originally from Toulouse who now proudly calls Birmingham his home.
Over the next 90 minutes, between Clem, general manager Jimmy and owner Nick, I hear about the £1 million investment that has gone into preparing this famous and infamous 255-year-old public house for the next chapter in its incredible story.

Amidst some serious steel restructuring, acoustic soundproofing (goodbye noise abatement orders), a new stairway leading to a green room for artists, and the most impressive massive space spanning the first floor (to be unveiled at a later date), we explore the rest of the latest addition to the Digbeth night time landscape.
It’s the little touches that get me, like the serving hatch shelf that has made way for a small cocktail bar in the now swish back room, the cosy distressed leather booths and cubby holes dotted around, the lampshades in the courtyard made from quarter cut steel beer kegs, the trippy ‘Rainbow Digbeth’ tag written hundreds of times on every surface in the entrance to the basement music venue, and — as Jimmy points out — the removal of window boxes on the Deritend side of the pub leading to more sunlight flooding the main bar.

Bigger picture, the vibes that Nick and the Star Pub and Bars design team have settled on can only be described as industrial shabby chic if that’s a thing (I’m available for Grand Designs, Kevin) so copper piping and finishing, heavy-duty lightbulbs, and a blocky wooden bar sit alongside mismatched chairs, eye-catching wallpaper and tiling, dark blue radiators, and lovely paintwork everywhere. And, in big news, gone is the Saw VI gulag escape room experience also known as the venue’s toilets, in favour of sleek tiled, copper and wood facilities.
The below street level music venue, in an industrial low lit style, with a 200 capacity will play host to house band Urban Jukebox and resident DJ Feva (one of the mainstays from the Fuzz and Joe days), with Birmingham music royalty Lisa Travers also on booking duties, working with city promoters – line-up to come.

As well as the usual beers on offer (via Heineken’s Beavertown) there’ll be 30 cocktails, alongside a residency from award-winning, plant-based dining experience BA-HA in the brand new kitchen, serving King Kentucky Burgers, "wings", "calamari", slow-roasted "brisket" and poutine with cashew parmesan, plus hearty Sunday roasts with Guinness gravy.
A first visit may be a strange experience for anyone familiar with the Rainbow of old, but after hearing of Nick’s passion for the building, and the community it once served, I’m fairly sure you’re all going to dig the new Rainbow too. I might even spend some of my forties in here. 
The Rainbow pub opens at 9.30pm, Saturday October 2 and, then forth, is open Mondays to Thurdays 4pm to 12.30am, Fridays 4pm to 2am and Saturdays 12pm to midnight. Follow the pub on Instagram and Facebook. Words: Lyle Bignon


Brum's own world-class (and kickin' arse) ballet company returns to the Hippodrome this October and it leads with Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s glorious interpretation of Romeo & Juliet (above), a ballet the company's director Carlos Acosta has starred in more than a little. MacMillan created this production especially for Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1991, with scenes in the full-company piece ranging from bustling market stalls to intimate family moments. The scenery and costumes paint a rich picture of medieval life, with monumental stone columns that cleverly conjure up the action-packed marketplace of Verona, a moonlit garden and the famous balcony, and the magnificent hall for the fateful Capulet ball. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia will be in the pit, performing Prokofiev’s rich and heart-stirring score live throughout the October 6 to 9 run, that'll make you fall in love with ballet. Tickets start from £27. For the second week of the season Carlos has curated a double bill: R&J Reimagined, part of which is the brilliantly-named Radio and Juliet, a one-act ballet by Romanian choreographer Edward Clug. It reinterprets Shakespeare’s story from Juliet’s point of view using 11 songs by Radiohead (see what they've done there?) as its soundtrack. Birmingham's Rosie Kay Dance Company will be at the helm of the second part, interpreting our star-crossed lovers in the hot Birmingham summer of 2021. So, over those two days we had, presumably. That pairing runs October 14 to 16 and tickets start at £11. If you fancy a further string to your entertainment's bow, the brilliant Pineapple Club have created a one-off cocktail you could be supping before or after the show. Or both. "The Last Sip” (below) is a blend of floral and fruity flavours, violet, lavender, and raspberry topped with prosecco (October 1 to 16, £8.50).


Where do you stand when it comes to ghosts? I stand as far away from them as is humanly possible, but that might prove to be tricky at Aston Hall's Torchlit Tour. If you fancy mooching around one of the nation's most haunted venues then fill your boots, but don't be tweeting me when you're looking for decent local exorcists. In fairness, though, this doesn't seem like it's going to be wall-to-wall terror. They promise laughs along the way and even, maybe, a history lesson or three. This is always an extremely popular mansion tour and is literally done by torchlight — they provide the torches. The event takes place on October 22, 23, 24, 29 and 30. Tours last about an hour and it's for over 8s only. Adults: £15, kids: £12. Right this way for tickets and more event details.


Taking Instagram and Kings Heath by storm is the Milkcake Man, a former bus driver turned creator of glee-inducing cakey creations. Based in Kings Court Parade (opposite ASDA) and open Wednesdays to Sundays, Sheraz Anwar has already attracted 11,000 followers and a troop of devoted customers. Milkcake involves baking cake (something Sheraz hadn't done pre-pandemic), then pouring flavoured milk onto the sponge, which absorbs the goodness. At one point Sheraz was working 12-hour days on buses and baking when he got home, and during breaks. He first tasted milkcake in Dubai, thanks to his wife, and had to find out how to make it. In a year he's gone from keen amateur to business owner with his creations taking wild and wonderful twists and turns. Look!


In what's starting to become an I Choose Birmingham series of Amazon-targeted Brummie initiatives, Kaientai has launched into the online shop sphere, with sustainability at its core. The work of three Brum brothers (Bauan, Baban and Mier Rashid) two of whom binned off tasty looking jobs to commit to it, Kaientai puts climate change at the forefront of their easy delivery website, with 70+ products and counting. In fact they have 10 key principles, all of which should sit well on 99% of moral barometers. And they're Brummies. So they're samurai.
Venue: Fox & Chance, 45 Pinfold St, B2 4AY; Website 
Choice: Day At The Races (£9)  Chooser: Ryan 

If you've come here looking for food, I have nothing for you. Well that's not strictly true, Fox & Chance do sourdough toast, their loaves bought from nearby Medicine Bakery, but Brum's newest independent cocktail bar is, perhaps understandably, majoring on cocktails. Following the truly gutting closures of Bourne & Co, 1881 and Nocturnal Animals, the city centre's indy drinks scene has had a sad-makingly quiet year or so, but this little gem — that opened September 15 — is fighting the good fight. The work of Brummie Ryan Smith and his former Be At One colleagues Blaise Bachelier and Carolyn Thirsk, the three have launched into the city's maturer cocktail environs. Though they're pretty to look at, the drinks have more classical aesthetics, meaning more customers are drinking them and less are photographing them. Amusingly, Fox & Chance have taken the now vacated Adult Bookstore spot on Pinfold Street, with some customers wandering in looking for their former favourite smut library. "Some even stay for a drink," says Ryan. The interior too ticks the grown-up boxes, with no obvious Instagram photo opp to speak of, just comfortable Chesterfield-style sofas offering up 80 covers, with a cosy atmosphere and chatty staff. Drink highlight for me was the Straight To The Point, a rum take on an Old Fashioned, in which the team make syrup from home-baked bananas for a spicy, sumptuous slurper that packs a Vermouth kicker. Rich and complex it's probably a one order only cocktail, but the one you'll be boring the cab driver about on your way home. If you're looking for a dessert-style option Flip The Pip is a warming, comforting, decadent mix that includes Birmingham Brewing Company's Stout Brummie, the owners supporting local wherever possible. Day At The Races is the sort of mix that you will return to — peach wine, elderflower, sauvignon blanc and luxury vodka Absolut Elyx combine to extraordinary effect. And finally the Shoot First introduces sage to pineapple, with Porters Tropical Gin and a splash of tonic, demonstrating the sort of daring palate the team have. Suffice to say three young, former chain bar workers rolling the dice on an indy cocktail lounge in a defunct porn shop is the sort of gamble our city should be backing to the hilt. If recent history has taught us anything it's the old 'use it or lose it' lesson. Menu


A hat-trick of artists have combined to turn Ikon Gallery into the most colourful I've ever known it. Headlining the rainbow-infused exhibitions (in my opinion) is artist Mit Jai Inn's aptly named Dreamworld. Perhaps the best-known artist in Thailand is one the rest of the world has barely heard of, but he's been defying conventional boundaries, both physically and conceptually for decades. His kaleidoscopic pieces contrast perfectly against the Ikon's white walls and roofs, adding smiles on the faces of adults and children alike — this really is one you should consider taking kids to. Highlight for me was Scrolls (2003) pictured above, in which Mit transforms a traditional format of Eastern painting into rollable sculptures with blobs (he probably wouldn't call them blobs) and stripes. It's refreshing to be surrounded by pieces by an artist who seems to be throughly enjoying himself in his work, with one whopper of an instalment (below) so big in scale you literally walk through it like a colour-filled corridor. As the world goes to sh*t, it feels like a meditative relief to experience. Mindfulness but with your eyes open. Meanwhile, a gear down on the psychedelic transmission, but still scoring high on the old rainb-o-meter is Bill Woodrow and Richard Deacon's We Thought About It A Lot (and other shared drawings). The Brit pair have been making “shared sculptures” together since 1990, passing the drawings between each other a number of times, resulting in pieces of inherent spontaneity. Apparently the artists surprise and respond to each other; sometimes working together in a shared space, at other times going solo. Usually two-dimensional, the works become layered through a range of techniques including collage, frottage, and drawing in pencil or pen and ink. Figurative motifs – often animals – are combined with abstract configurations with (usually) chipper results. Both shows are on until November 21 and are free. Do donate if you can. More
If you fancy eating in total darkness at The Canal House or The Botanist, that's now oddly an option (£45). More

New city centre chippy Fillet of Soul opens today, from the people behind Brum stalwarts Bodega, The Victoria and The Rose Villa Tavern. You'll find it on Bennett's Hill. I got oddly excited that you get to do your own salt and vinegar. More

London's Gypsy Hill Brewery is taking over the JQ's The Wolf, tonight. Details 
Early Bird (and lowest price) tickets for both Moseley Folk and Mostly Jazz festivals (2022) go on sale at 10am today. Here and here respectively.
Only six of Brum designer Luke Skinner's tremendous Brum prints remain at £10 a throw. Plenty of the accompanying stickers are available, though. Check them out

Your last chance to apply for Commonwealth Games tickets in the main ballot is today, entries close at 8pm. May the odds be ever in your favour. Apply 

"It's got be somebody's birthday, somewhere."

Old Mayan excuse for eating cake

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WORDS: Tom Cullen, Lyle Bignon
PICS: Rainbow interior (Spark Media), BA-HA food (@petemedlicott), Ikon (Stuart Whipps)

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