To say that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has seen some things is an understatement. At over a century in age it's survived wars, recessions and pandemics, evolving from a part-time ensemble into a globally renowned powerhouse. But throughout it all, the CBSO has been our orchestra, the musical expression of Birmingham, one of the world's great cities.
This week, along with their new season announcement, the CBSO launched their latest brand, one which reflects a seismic shift in direction. For a city institution so steeped in history, the rebrand is a bold and beautiful embodiment of an orchestra focussed firmly on the future, with an energised new Chief Conductor behind the baton and a new relevance with which they will wow young Brummies.
To mark the new look (above) we've traced just a fraction of the journey that one of the jewels in Birmingham's cultural crown has been on, with a little help from just a few of the badges it has proudly borne over those 100+ years...
The earliest orchestral concerts known to have taken place in Brum were at the Moor Street Theatre way back in 1740 and more than 20 separate orchestras are recorded as having existed in the city between then and the foundation of what is now the CBSO.
It was from 1916 onward that the real desire to pursue a single, permanent, municipally funded orchestra in Birmingham came about. Members of the campaign included Neville Chamberlain, Lord Mayor of Brum from 1916 to 1918 and Prime Minister of, erm, mixed success from 1937 to 1940.
On 17 March 1919, a proposal was submitted to the Council for an orchestra of 70. They agreed to an annual grant of £1250 making it the first publicly funded orchestra in the country. It officially formed in June 1919 and named itself the City of Birmingham Orchestra or CBO, the above logo being one of their very first. I like the roundel a lot, less so the wonky balance of words on either side.
The first rehearsal took place in 1920, in the band room at the Birmingham City Police's Steelhouse Lane station, the inaugural concert taking place soon after at Town Hall, a place the CBO would make its home for many years. None other than Edward Elgar conducted his own music that day, because that's the kind of cool cat he was.
In 1951, the CBSO committee approached Rudolf Schwarz to take the baton. Schwarz reserved an entire day per week for rehearsals, which, despite resistance from conservative orchestral players, definitely worked, and the orchestra started to attract top-tier soloists. They made their first television appearance in 1954 and, in 1955, visited the Netherlands on a first overseas tour. Perhaps the boldest logo in that period was the music stand branding above which rather cleverly (for the mid-60s, at least) uses an alto clef to denote the 'B' of Birmingham.
In 1980 and under the above logo (Adidas Stan Smith vibes, right?) the orchestra welcomed Simon Rattle. At the time of his appointment, Rattle was the UK’s youngest Principal Conductor and he combined youth, energy, ideas and talent. Under his baton, the CBSO rose to international acclaim as one of the world’s most versatile, innovative and basically badass orchestras.
Next up, Finn Sakari Oramo became Chief Conductor in 1998 just as the CBSO logo took on what became colloquially known as "the splat" (above), a style which saw yellow, purple, red and pink iterations during the stewardships of Andris Nelsons and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. That's 22 years without really changing their look — which I guess has a certain Steve Jobs charm, but something had to give...
And it has! For 2023, the baton has been passed on once more, this time to the globally renowned Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada (above). At 44 he might be a little older than some of his predecessors but his energy, his infectious smile, his obvious love of his job and his ability to bring a freshness to every gig makes him very much an appointment for the here and now.
Kazuki, combined with the new, bolder, braver brand reflects deeply how many of us feel about the CBSO and the city as a whole. As one of our biggest exports the latest CBSO logo hammers home Brum's clear and confident mission statement. Epic, powerful, meaningful, it's so cool it even has merch!
With the right man in the job and the right brand for Birmingham in place, the CBSO has also announced a new season of superb set lists, line-ups and tour dates which will please the old guard with classic bangers (Verdi’s Requiem, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Madam Butterfly, The Damnation of Faust) but more importantly attract a new wave of big band aficionados, people who perhaps, right now, have no idea they're about to fall in love with an orchestra. New dates announced are dedicated to Star Wars, Final Fantasy II, the Hollywood hits of Hans Zimmer and The Orchestral Qawwali Project to name just a few.
It's always been easy to be proud of the CBSO's past but now the real buzz lies in what's yet to come. They're not future proofing. They're blazing a trail.
DOWNWARD DOG AND DIANA ROSS
Let's get fizzical as Olivia Newton-John sort of, kind of, sang. Resorts World Birmingham is combining three of humanity's greatest gifts to itself: Yoga, bubbly and disco, on June 10, and bookings are now live.
Child your pose, lotus your position and downward your dog to a glorious mix of Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, KC and the Sunshine Band and loads more, all courtesy of Disco Yoga. Dance, sing and flex before taking a disco nap in the coolest of cool downs in the High Line's Lake Lounge. Then slurp on a hard-earned Bucks Fizz. Bliss.
Disco Yoga, which has swept London and parts of the Southeast, are sending up their founder Sarah Hunt, no less, to guide the vinyasa while live DJs will spin the disco disks. Come in full sequins and spandex or simply pull on your joggers and freaky-deaky.
There will be two 90 minute sessions to choose from at 1pm and 3.30pm, consisting of an hour's yoga and 30 mins of glitter and drinks. Tickets are £18 per person (plus booking fee), or £28 (plus booking fee) with an Eco Yoga Mat you can take home. Book
NEW BADGES PLEASE
He long. He bong. And he never wrong. The Old Joe Clock Tower has been looking out across Birmingham for 115 years now so it's long overdue the I Choose Birmingham badge treatment. Buy one for yourself or for a pal. Heck, buy all 200 of them, if you wish, and hand them out on campus like a weird Santa! They're £8 each (plus postage) and, as my mom would always say when she caught me with my hand in the chocolate cupboard, when they're gone they're gone!
Also newly available on our little online shop and to mark 50 years since it first opened and ten since the bulldozers arrived, we've had some beautiful (or hideous, depending on your opinion) badges made of the gone but never forgotten Central Library as designed by Brummie, Claire Hartley. They're £8 too (plus postage) while we also have a few Mr Egg and Snobs badges. And finally the lovely team at Birmingham Design have some Raging Bull Badges in stock too. Prices vary, just hit the links below...
Don't know about you but I decided it was summer about 3 weeks ago, a decision my brain can't seem to reverse resulting in consistently dreadful wardrobe choices. But the sun will come and I have it on very good authority that it promises to beam upon MAC’s splendid outdoor amphitheatre, a month today (May 27), for new music festival The Ryland Caravan.
The creation of local indie cowboys Independent Country and in association with hosts Midlands Arts Centre, this belting new Brummie offering will feature non-stop live music, DJs, food, craft beer from Attic Brewery, podcasting pop-ups, arty stalls and more.
Like an old-time travelling show, The Ryland Caravan is a tip of the hat to Cannon Hill Park benefactor, Louisa Ryland and not to national treasure Rylan Clark (mainly because his name is spelt different).
The line-up is headlined by former Teenage Fanclub-er Gerry Love who promises to reimagine his peerless songbook from his years as one of the group's main songwriters and vocalists (a band Kurt Cobain described as “the best in the world”), as well as from his beaut' of a solo album Electric Cables.
Also on the line-up are Birmingham’s own Independent Country (above) who'll bring with them their mash up UK and US indie classics with country stylings, delivering a sound that has won admirers on festival stages from Nashville to Bournville. Mercurial live performer Laura J Martin and punkists Swampmeat Family Band will also be in town and you can enjoy live storytelling from OneTrackMinds podcast, an entertaining cross between Desert Island Discs and TED Talks. Adults pay £27.50, for under 14s it's £17.50 and under 5s go free. Book
Pop art royalty Mr Brainwash — AKA Thierry Guetta — has launched one of his most audacious exhibitions yet, appropriating and reinterpreting the classics and offering his signature, subversive and street arty takes on the modern world.
The new collection, at Clarendon Fine Art on Colmore Row, unveils large-scale statement pieces, brick artwork celebrating his street art origins, painted balloon sculptures, neon mirror artworks, “vandalised” frames liberating art from canvases, and paper originals deconstructing popular culture.
Mr Brainwash will also be releasing two exclusive, limited editions, Long Live the King and Power to the People. Long Live the King (above) commemorates the coronation of Charles III (imagine if he showed up in that, big move) while Power to the People (below) is his new depiction of the Battersea Power Station — where he launched his show on Wednesday, before Brum yesterday. The latter of these two comes emblazoned with his graffiti, nods to Pink Floyd’s iconic Animals album artwork and Banksyisms — Banksy, of course, directed the Oscar-nominated Exit Through the Gift Shop documentary, charting Mr Brainwash’s meteoric rise to fame.
Since the film Mr Brainwash has designed album covers for Madonna, Rick Ross and Michael Jackson, and worked with everybody from Mercedes-Benz, the Beckhams, First Lady Michelle Obama and even doing Pope Francis collab (!!). The exhibition is free and runs until May 3.
Venue: Upstairs by Tom Shepherd, 25 Bore St, Lichfield; WS13 6NA; website Choice: Eight Course Tasting Menu (£100) Chooser: Tom Shepherd
I can almost hear my accountant's facepalm as he lays eyes on this but, as regional Michelin-starred restaurants go, Upstairs is charging a pretty reasonable fee and, right now, must surely be one of the most exciting to visit given chef owner Tom Shepherd's joyous and Banamanan-powered run on The Great British Menu.
If you have an aversion to over-fiddly, over-fussy high-end restaurants then Upstairs might be absolutely bang-right for you. There's no doubt the dishes are made with the utmost care and love, but they come out homelier, more comforting than comparable venues. And it's as if that jettisoning of any snobbery (which, to be fair, is non-existent in most of the West Mids Starred spots) rubs off on the service and the atmosphere, so alive and relaxed was the meal from top to bottom.
After snacks have been served the beetroot gazpacho comes out and, since very early on in Upstairs existence, remains one of the prettiest and most refreshing bowls of indulgence, the cooling horseradish marrying with the earthy soup to produce creamy throat-gold that our table of six, one and all, rightly lingered over despite encroaching hunger.
Parker House bread rolls followed and Assistant Restaurant Manager, Flo (who incredibly remembered our favourite dishes and drinks from the last visit, a full year previous), suggested saving some for the next course — seriously savvy advice as the freshly baked bread dunked like a dream into the Atlantic cod with sand carrot and golden raisin. Despite the tandoori annotation on the menu there were katsu qualities to the sauce in which this water-bathed fish sat after having spent, presumably, a Tony Montana time sous vide-ing in its own mini jacuzzi. A sensational bite.
If the cod wasn't the pick of the dishes then the guinea fowl (pictured) was. Wallowing in teriyaki gravy and twinned-up with Musk-level rich maitake mushrooms, there was sweetness, umami, a smokiness to the skin and a perfect plumpness to the meat of the bird, the wild garlic providing a mellow spice and zip.
Two hogget courses were next (that's lamb, not pork, silly-head) and though the more, erm, seasoned eaters around the table were blown away by both it was on the second of the pair that a couple of our crew thought things were getting a smidgen too heavy. I saw their point but guzzled merrily on every morsel of mine and noted that plates were polished off at every seat.
A brilliantly bizarre transition course which combines Thai green curry and ice cream teed-up the 'No Ordinary Schoolboy' dessert, which scored tens across the board on that there telly show, last month. True, if you don't like banana it'll be a disappointing finale but with its caramelly under-notes and rummy lift, the slight crack to the shell and gooey belly, it was every bit the mic drop I'd hoped it would be.
Blur will officially reopen The Halls Wolverhampton on May 26 as part of their run of Wembley warm-up shows and tickets will go on sale here at 10am tomorrow (April 28). — Chapter's Edinburgh Gin front terrace will open on May 4. That day they'll be serving complimentary sample cocktails with nibbles at the soon-to-be sun-drenched, Greenfield Crescent spot that'll score high for people watching. — Birmingham Tequila Festival 2023 will take place on May 27 at The Rainbow Pub in Digbeth while that venue's sister site, The Cuban Embassy (Moseley), will host the rum alternative on June 24. —
Jordan Gray, the first trans woman to be nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award and the first trans woman to headline the London Palladium, will play the Glee Club on September 7. Tickets go on sale here tomorrow (April 28) at 10am. —
Also going on sale tomorrow (April 28) at 10am, right here, are tickets for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the live concert and movie which sold out in New York. It will be stopping at Symphony Hall (October 28) as part of its UK tour. —
If you're free today or tonight (April 27) we've gone and got you hugely discounted tickets for Home, I'm Darling (not a typo for once) at The Alexandra. Step back in to the 1950s with a £19.50 ticket offer (see what we've done there?) for matinee or evening. Choose 'Promo Seat' from the options using this link.
WORDS: Tom Cullen
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