You don’t expect to find your next creative outlet tucked in beside a car salesroom, a getir and a gym, but that’s exactly where Stirchley Printworks resides, comfortably located in Clonmel Business Park, camouflaged by rows of terraces. Stirchley’s commercial success lies in the community's ability to adapt to its existing buildings, units and surroundings and this new venture is no exception, with founder James Turner shaping the 24 hour unit to become a site for workshops, courses and jobbing printmakers.
The studio is a real hidden gym – mainly due to its discreet location – and, open for just over two months, has already got a set of workshops under its belt, upcoming Christmas classes, and a successfully raised Kickstarter fund of £XX [update when deadline passes].
Not originally from ‘round these parts, James is as enthusiastic about the city as any born and bred Brummie, with an effusive love for Bathams and ale trails alongside his print. He began where many do, coming to Birmingham for university, and stayed. Still teaching in Leamington alongside running this passion project, he realised long ago he had a knack for conveying the techniques, creativity and exploration of print. Toying with the idea of the studio for two years, the timeline moved quickly from February this year. James knew the Clonmel space was exactly what he needed, and with a toilet – hard to come by in studio searches, apparently – so acted fast and put the deposit down “to make it all real”, recruiting his band of merry men and women to assist with installation, painting, preparing, then celebrating, its opening.
Why print? I ask: “It’s for everyone, it’s inclusive of all backgrounds, and has so many types to explore,’ James smiles. Through his teaching, he’s learned how to step back, allow people to discover it for themselves and, importantly, play. Print is, undeniably, fun, with its tools, inks and mess, but James confirms that people often think it’s a bit stuffy, requiring a certain level of ability and quality. Here, he aims to “break the normality”.
Discussing the lack of a strong print community, accessible equipment and workshops in Birmingham – the familiar ‘how did Brum get missed out?’ question arising again – in Stirchley he has devised something that sets a template for what he hopes could grow and replicate elsewhere across the city.
Offering studio membership – from budding newbies to seasoned printmakers — through a key-holder subscription, the space is compact but open, airy and incredibly welcoming; mostly built by hand by James and his team of willing, wine-bribed helpers. Intentionally creating a social ‘breakout’ area, he hopes the space becomes more than just a place to create and work, but somewhere to socialise with other members, share ideas, techniques and enjoy the design process.
The courses follow the same ethos, ranging from focused day classes such as lino and screen (£90), eight-series workshops (£320) and one-off themes, including card making for Christmas. James is also the ‘everyman’ of print, sharing hacks on how to avoid paying hefty pricetags for print equipment and repurposing existing tools for the job, recently offering a lego print course to stretch the ‘play’ ethos.
Elbowing my way onto one of the sessions from the Beginner’s Print course, I enjoyed three hours with a lovely assortment of Brummies. The course introduces students to a range of print processes and methods – exploring intaglio versus relief, in screen print, dry point etching and lino, allowing ‘freestyle’ sessions at the end to explore your own path. Week three was dry point etching and chine coll'e (try that in a Brum twang): etching into plastic, smothering it with ink and sending it through what can only be described as a modern mangle. An accompanying tour of the open plan studio introduced me to the equipment you sort of know, but not really. The aforementioned ‘mangle’ is, in fact, an etching press. In pride of place, sits the Albion press, an original 1887 restored beauty. Alongside the old sits new; screen print beds, and the etching press sourced from just up the road in Ironbridge. Reader, I was hooked; I’m going back.
Stirchley Printworks’ success and longevity will be helped by the additional funding from the Kickstarter, which will receive matched Arts Council funding and support running costs of the studio in its first year, enabling James to focus on supporting artists and beginners with equipment and courses, and ultimately grow the print community. The raised funds show the demand is there for more of the same. If you admire the amazing prints that are produced but often think it’s beyond your grasp, think again: James insists everyone is a potential printer, they just don’t know it yet. And he hopes his courses uncover that desire in lots more Brummies. “Passion is more important than practice”, he insists.
This studio is, by James’s reckoning, “exactly what’s needed for the print community”. In his charmingly modest way, he’s undersold the studio: this is for the whole community, Stirchley and beyond.
The rise and rise of Closeup Comedy, Brum's newest regular comedy night, has been a joy to observe. As with all of these things, getting your name on the circuit is job one, but once you're established you don't need to hunt out the comedians, the comedians hunt out you.
That's where Closeup have found themselves and they've done it at breakneck speed with their residencies at Hockley Social Club and their continued progress at Herbert's Yard, in Longbridge, with "name" comics appearing on a weekly basis in December and clamouring to get a spot. They're onto something big and at just £8 a ticket, something economical.
This lockdown phenomenon that is local talent Josh Pugh (pictured) appears on December 1. Pugh has the lot. Innately likeable, unassuming and oozing natural charm, he instantly has the crowd on side. His writing is whip-sharp, with sets teeming with gags — his delivery a masterclass. Pugh brings to mind Harry Hill, Kevin Bridges and Lee Mack, and if that Holy Trinity isn’t enough to have you flocking, then I don’t know what you’re after. It's testament to Pugh that we reckon he's headlining that particular night despite sharing the stage with TV comic, panel show regular and one-time Phoenix Night-er Justin Moorhouse. Fresh off the back of Live At The Apollo and winner of Chortle's Best Newcomer 2019, Sarah Keyworth, also appears in what will be richter scale worthy night of chuckles.
Tickets still remain, but are going like the proverbial clappers, for the December 8 iteration, headlined by US star Desiree Burch. Burch has appeared on (deep breath) Live at the Apollo, Have I Got News for You, QI, The Mash Report, The Russell Howard Hour, The Fake News Show, Chris Ramsey's Stand Up Central, Frankie Boyle's New World Order, Mock the Week, Live From he BBC and any other comedy show that's worth its salt. Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year 2021, Nina Gilligan, will be on warm-up duty, among others.
Talk of the comedy town, the provocative Fin Taylor, is arguably the pick of the December 15 innings, his genuinely edgy sets avoid the contrived and are sure to have you debating his bits over interval street food. Speaking of the food, Hockley has a rotating rostrum of some of the regions absolute best vendors in the run up to Santa, with Only Jerkin as residents, Le Petit Bois making seafood shack appearances, Tacos El Pap bringing the city's coolest street food van (and serious scran) and the outstanding Cleopatra's Kitchen also booked in. Forthcoming dates
BADGE OF HONOUR...
...Or dishonour, depending on how you look at it. We've only gone and managed to sort out our own little online shop for the first time since 2018, and with it your chance to get the pin badges we made to recognise Birmingham's iconic Snobs nightclub and thrifty Mr Egg cafe. So for all those who remember being stuck to Snobs' gluey dancefloor and eating like a king for £1, you can now demonstrate your badgy love for these retro venues.
This year marks 50 years since Snobs launched at Paradise Circus and although Mr Egg still technically exists it's been many, many years since its hero ingredient was the humble egg, now serving rather good Chinese street food under new owners. We have limited numbers of all three badges, which start at £7 and rise to £8 each. The Mr Egg combo is just £12. Postage and packaging is £2 and for now we are only posting inside the UK. We are posting first class so all orders before December 20 will arrive in time for Christmas Day, with time to spare. Shop
WREATHS 'Я' US
For those nostalgic for the tinsel and plastic-laden Christmas decorations of yore, remember those babies were a fire hazard, before we even knew they strangled fish, so think no more of it. Better to go au natural for your sprucing.
Remember Lupin, the houseplant-whisperers who could revive your green children? They’re offering eco-friendly Christmas wreaths, with British foliage (not a Brexit endorsement, it’s just better for your flowers and plants to be local) and a real wow-factor to boot. In collaboration with award-winning local business, Tuckshop Flowers, they’ve got two of their most popular wreaths available to order from mid-November, with weekly Friday deliveries starting from December 2.
Incorporating foraged stems, berries, feathers, cones and foliage, the duo on offer are available in small, medium or large sizes, depending on how much you want to impress the carol singers. Wild Lupin (£40, £65, £75) brings all-green tones and the Scandi vibe, while Pheasant Lupin (£50, £70, £85) glows with traditional berry reds. Not a bit of glitter in sight. Order yours
A FREE BEER FOR EVERY READER
Bao, beer and Birmingham. Does it get any better? The doors to North Taproom: Snow Hill are set to open on November 25, bringing Brum a brand-new city centre drinking spot, with a varied drinks offering and Asian street food.
North’s 24 draught lines showcase the core range from their Leeds brewery, alongside limited-edition specials and guest brews, which are served alongside an extensive and ever-changing line-up of wines, cocktails, ciders and spirits from a range of local and international producers, including an impressive low and no alcohol offering. Fellow Leeds-based brand, Little Bao Boy, will be taking care of the food menu, serving up contemporary Asian street food seven days a week.
To celebrate the launch at Unit 1, Snow Hill, North are giving a beer away to everyone who subscribes to their newsletter here. Everyone who signs up before November 25 will get a pint on the house. Each week North will be sending a random selection of early subscribers their free beer voucher, so keep your eyes primed on your inbox as you will get one at some point. Think of it as a beer roulette, where eventually everyone is a winner!
The new taproom seats 100 inside, with space for an additional 30 standing guests, and an extensive covered outdoor seating area that seats a further 50. Interiors are relaxed and inviting, featuring plywood, plants and clean lines to create an open, spacious taproom with a Scandi feel.
The taproom will have 24 draught lines, including 18 lines of keg beer, showcasing an eclectic array of guest breweries. To kick things off, North will have two Brum-based specials on the taps, a deliciously smooth, juicy and refreshing West Coast IPA brewed with Dig Brew, and a tropical, juicy, double dry hopped NEIPA created in collaboration with Attic Brew Co. Subscribe
A WALK IN THE (LADY)WOOD
There’s nothing better than a wander around Brum with the dulcet tones of Benjamin Zephaniah in your ears. Experience just that through the good people of Roundhouse Birmingham, in partnership with We Don’t Settle, and their latest audio tour, ‘My Voice, My Path, Our History’.
The latest result of their ongoing collaboration, the self-guided audio tour of places of interest and importance in Ladywood, was co-written and researched by five young women of colour, supported by producers from both companies, alongside Black Heritage Walks Network. Black histories and heritage of the area were researched, and the tour planned, by five ‘project activators’: Tia, Nina, Ilhan, Amira and Rayhanah – students, creatives and a spoken word poet, all passionate about Brum.
The tour loops you from the Roundhouse, into Ladywood, visiting ten places before heading back to the start, covering around two miles in total. Familiar faces and voices feature, with stories taking you back as far as 200 years ago, to the modern day. Hear clips from an interview with poet, activist and legend Benjamin Zephaniah, as well as tour stops for Sir Lenny Henry and jazz musician, Andy Hamilton MBE. From visiting legends’ hotspots you’ll also walk to iconic black-owned businesses, like Granny’s Original Takeaway and Mellow’s restaurant.
Free to access through the Geotourist app, there’s an accompanying digital multimedia resource to dig deeper into these stories, featuring extended versions of interviews, videos, blogs, photography and more, and includes the full interview with Benjamin Zephaniah, plus a fascinating insight into the underground black music scene in Birmingham.
We Don’t Settle and Roundhouse Birmingham’s Partnership has previously produced the ‘Birmingham by Night’ exhibition and ‘Herstory of Birmingham’ Zine, helping to empower young people of colour to amplify unheard stories and voices in heritage, and this brilliant new addition to their repertoire will be an insight into Ladywood’s rich history. Get the audio
Circus with pie and mash is suddenly the only thing I ever want to do, when I'd never even heard about it this time last week. Coming to Kings Heath in December. More —
Digbeth-based Luna Springs are launching a Mariah Carey and Micky Bubbles bottomless brunch. Expect chaos. Details —
Just a few of the Brummies doing excellent (and I mean excellent) Christmas cards include Milan Topalovic, Blooming Heck plantable cards by Emma Stokes, Tom Woolley, TheCraftyBrum and the ever brilliant Brumhaus. —
The Kong badge, the Mega Bull badge and the combo of the two, a pin project we did with the lovely Birmingham Design Festival crew, are back on sale. They will sell out again, guaranteed. —
Brumbox, the home of Birmingham-themed merch, have revealed a load of new items and if I could pull off that pink Alright Bab sweater then I'd be all over it.
WORDS: Claire Hawkins, Tom Cullen
IMAGES: Tia Hortin (Ladywood audio tour)
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