Issue 309
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From a vicar-made bikers cafe in a Digbeth church to a psychedelic club above a furniture shop, to big important moments like Enoch Powell's core-chilling 'Rivers of Blood' speech, 1968 was a busy old year for Brum. It's almost as if someone should write a book about it. This Way to the Revolution by Flatpack director, Ian Francis, and a raft of volunteers, is published next week. Here's a massively word count constrained preview of just five moments from the beaut of a book.
Furniture outlets, gentleman’s tailors, and internationally renowned rock venues don't typically occupy the same building. But from 1968 to 1971 an unassuming, box-like structure on Erdington High Street contained all three. If by day you could visit the ground floor to buy a dinner table from Dale Forty, or a waistcoat from Brooks Bros., by night, one storey up, you could see the likes of Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac or The Who. The retail space exists today as a supermarket, and it is easy to miss the blue plaque that was unveiled in 2013 to commemorate the club that existed above. Ask anyone who went there, though, and you'll hear the same response – Mothers, as it was then known, was the best music venue in the world. This isn’t hyperbole; Billboard Magazine gave it that very accolade in both 1969 and 1970.
A sixties magnet for journalists, photographers and social workers thanks to its notoriety as a red light district and multicultural halfway house, American student Janet Mendelsohn documented the forgotten shops, people and even bomb-sites of Balsall Heath — including this patch alongside the Moseley Road, where kids would jealously guard bonfires.

In contrast with the ground zero approach found in Ladywood and other parts of the city, redevelopment was being deployed in a much more targeted way here. By 1968 a good deal of Varna Road had been demolished, less because of the poor quality of its large Victorian houses than because they were renowned for hosting the area's prostitutes. Mendelsohn's project was to dig behind the media narrative, humanising lives that had become caricatures of vice and poverty.
By the 1960s most of Digbeth's cramped, dilapidated back-to-back housing had been demolished, with a tiny residential population left behind and the local parish church looking increasingly isolated. In 1965 there was talk of closing down St Basil's for good, until an unlikely youth work project came along and transformed it into the focal point of the biker scene. In his ordained role as 'Chaplain for the Unattached', David Collyer worked with a range of youth subcultures across the city.

After a fairly fruitless period hanging out with beatniks and Mods, Collyer began to make contact with the bikers on the fringes of the city's growing Rocker scene. Viewed as grubby wasters, bringers of noise, fumes and aggro, there were few places where the bikers could gather. Until the Bishop of Birmingham lent the group — self-titled Double Zero ("because we're worth less than nothing") — St Basil's church. Quickly becoming a dedicated coffee bar and club, complete with jukebox, lounge and gym, the bike-filled space offered inclusion rather than evangelism, and the need for plenty of fundraising. When the space closed in 1971, it went on to become St Basil's youth homelessness charity — still super active in the city today.
Just over a fortnight after Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech, delivered at the Midland (now Burlington) Hotel on New Street, demonstrators filled Victoria Square, in anticipation of a visit from Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. There were an eclectic array of placards on display: students in donkey-jackets proclaimed 'Yankee Aggressors Out of Vietnam' and 'Wilson is an Optical Illusion'; smarter and more orderly, a large group of Indian and Pakistani workers carried signs reading 'Black and White Unite and Fight' and 'Prosecute Fascist Powell'; bringing up the rear, a group of dancing, singing African protestors attacked the 'Nigerian genocide' in Biafra. Add into the mix a large crowd of curious onlookers, from school kids to old ladies, and on Galloways Corner at the top of the square a pocket of fascists chanting "Send 'em back!" and you're starting to get a window into the cultural mix of Birmingham on May 5, 1968.
Though best known for the photographs he took documenting the slums of the Sixties, Birmingham College of Art graduate, Nick Hedges, also recorded happier scenes from the changing face of Brum — like a Caribbean jazz quartet at the Cross Guns pub in Handsworth and the stunning shot of Constitution Hill (pictured, top).

The number eight inner circle bus route became an essential tool for Hedges on his voyage of discovery. Ladywood, Hockley, Aston, Saltley, Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Newtown were regular spots and snooker halls, tower blocks and Blues matches typical subjects — if life was happening in a place, Hedges wanted to be there.

Now based in Shrewsbury, Hedges captured a moment in Birmingham that ten years earlier, was locked in a post-war freeze and ten years later, was largely to have vanished. Vanished but for the records he and fellow documenters kept, now brought together in that handy book we mentioned.
This Way to the Revolution launches at Ikon on Tuesday (Dec 10). Published on Dec 12, pre-order a copy (£15.99) here. Enter ICHOOSE in the discount code box during checkout to get a 10% discount (until Dec 31).


While acting the man-child is not generally thought to be a good thing, The Rep's created a re-imagining of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, and it's a very good thing. Sacking off the traditional 1906 Kensington Gardens setting, in favour of *checks notes* modern-day Birmingham, Peter Pan seems right up our rue. The entire set of Neverland will be built out of recyclable materials, re-used toys and car parts, harking back to simpler times when we all made forts and castles out of cardboard boxes and coke bottles. Throw in Skull Island, a killer croc and some high-flying wirework and, okay, we’re all in. The man behind it is the almost rudely talented director, Liam Steel, whose more unusual credentials include teaching Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and, probably most impressively, Russell Crowe, to move their feet to the beat in Les Misérables. Until January 19. Tickets (from £10)


The Andy Askins story will warm your festive cockles: the affable Teessider had been a consistently strong club act for years, with the musical comedian’s winning vulnerability proving a big hit. And then, from nowhere, John Bishop hand-selected Andy to appear on his BBC One show, as well as and The John Bishop Christmas Show, both in 2015. Cut to Andy sharing a bill with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Jess Glynne, John Newman and performing to an audience of millions on Saturday night prime time. Askins delivered on both occasions — the breaks would prove career-defining and his diary will be full for the rest of his brilliant career. And you've got multiple chances to catch him as part of some equally prime time pre-Christmas bills at Glee. In town as part of a quadruple bill across five days (18 to 22 December), tickets are £19.50, or add scran from £31.50. 


Shiny shell suits, Global Hypercolor tees and Grolsch bottle tops on your shoelaces: that’s how we dressed up to go out. Pick anything else from today, back to 1850 and we’d wager it'd be more acceptable. And from Saturday, BMAG'll be backing that up with their new expo. Dressed to the Nines includes everything from a 1958 Dior cocktail dress, to an ex-PM’s court garb, to the boot of Birmingham's Carnival Queen. For something a little less glittery, there are prints, paintings and pics from 19th century poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Godfather of Black British Photography Vanley Burke and pre-Raphaelite bro John Everett Millais. Or, the lads, as we like to call them. Also doing an open, Birmingham Revolutions: Power to the People, which looks at protests and what we can learn from them. Something in the water? From December 7, entry is free.

Venue: Simpsons, 20 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, B15 3DU; website  
Choice: Stone bass (£55 as part of "Menu 2020")

A lot was said about the city's newest star following this year's Michelin announcement. But a story which got rather less attention was the twenty years of uninterrupted stardom Simpsons can claim. To mark the double decade of making nice with Bibendum, the kitchen is putting on Menu 2020, a mid-week, three-course dinner and wine option which comes in at a rather exceptionally priced £55. And the really good news? It tastes exceptional too. We've been left a little cold by our last three finer dining experiences and were starting to wonder if it was "us" not "them". Yeah, it's them. Even on what you might assume would be a more modest food offering given the price, the kitchen got everything right. Little smoked cheese dumplings swam and sang happily in a sea of black garlic, hen of the woods and carrot broth. Perfect pieces of Cornish mackerel snuggled up with pickled baby beetroot, ice wasabi and red vein sorrel. And not a dot of toasted marshmallow ice cream that accompanied a choc and PB delice was left to clear by the end of proceedings. But if we had to pick, and we really do given the entire premise of this feature, it was the stone bass that edged it. Cooked better than we knew stone bass could be and paired with smoked cod roe, an olive crumb and wilted greens, this is a kitchen that's working really hard on flavour combinations rather than just deferring to those old reliables, butter and salt. Simpson's continues to strive and evolve and is absolutely justifiably the longest holder of a star in the Midlands. If you have anything which borders on an excuse in the new year, Menu 2020 is available Tuesday to Thursdays from January 3.
Sample menuBook
We're all in on the exceptionally named Noëldles at Loaf on Tuesday (Dec 10). Lap-fai Lee will be heading up the kitchen and dealing in slurpy, rameny sort of fare. From 6pm.
Digmas comes but once a year, and this weekend is 2019's Christmassy Custard Factory happening. Festive films, rollicking reindeer, a merry-making market, plus this little lot is what to expect. 
That David Baddiel that's always going on about lions is in Brum AC (After Christmas). Tickets for his March 19 show Trolls: Not The Dolls at Symphony Hall are £30.24.
Our editor is a bit of a carol concert connoisseur. And her pick for this year? The Santa Lucia service happening at the Cathedral on Monday complete with crowns and candles. It starts at 6pm but you'll want to be there by half five for a decent seat.
The Bearwood edition of Earth Market is at Lightwoods Park this Sunday from midday. Find it in Handsworth and Kings Heath later on in December. More

"Essentially, Birmingham is a drag. Avoid it if possible, the centre being a trifle confusing to a stoned freak and the suburbs hostile and impossible to navigate."

The International Times, 1970

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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Robb Sheppard, James Gill
PICTURES: Constitution Hill at night — Nick Hedges 1966, Spirit, Mothers ephemera — courtesy Syd Wall 1969/70, 
Balsall Heath bonfire — Janet Mendelsohn, Double Zero fundraising leaflet1967, B&W workers at Victoria Square Rally, Nick Hedges 1968, Jazz group at the Cross Guns, Handsworth — Nick Hedges 1966. 

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