Issue 386
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"Being sat in a cinema is the place I'm most comfortable on Earth," says Kevin Markwick, the new owner of The Electric. "I'm marinated in film." It's a joy, and I mean that, to hear Kevin speak. Any owner, within reason, would have been better than no owner, which at one stage looked like a real possibility for the oldest working cinema in the country, but it just so happens we've landed a fanatic. Kevin is responsible for the highly successful Uckfield Picture House, an independent cinema in East Sussex, which has been in the Markwick family since 1967. His Dad worked in cinemas all his life and Kevin's daughter, Katie, has moved to Birmingham "lock, stock and barrel" to ensure Brum's home of film gets the attention it deserves. We had a quick Zoom about what the city can expect of The Electric's new dawn.
Inside The Electric recently, and below, how it looked in the 1930s when it was known as Jaceys 
I take it you got an early feel for how important this cinema is to Brummies?
[Laughing] Oh yes. I did an offhand post on my Twitter feed [saying he'd bought it] and it just blew up. And I mean it went absolutely crazy. The love for the venue was obvious. 

Does a lot of pressure come, part and parcel, with that level of civic passion?
Yes, but we’re used to it. We feel the pressure, but we’re already looking after one historical site here in Uckfield, and The Electric is exactly what I was looking for. Something to love and cherish and take forward. So, I guess, it’s more exciting than pressured. I’m not phased by the pride and passion, instead I appreciate it immensely. Presumably it will make my job slightly easier. Getting bums on seats won’t feel like shouting into a black hole of nothingness. The desire is already there to buy tickets.

How much TLC does it need and what was awaiting you when you first walked through the doors? 
Well, it wasn’t quite as 'oven ready' as I imagined. Digital cinema equipment doesn't like being turned off. It works better if it remains on and in use, for all sorts of practical reasons, not least encryption. Studios are terrified we're going to copy their films and sell them down the pub, which would be like sh*tting on your own doorstep, not to put too fine a point on it. So studios have it so they can detect if you ever break the link between the server and the projector, as it might be an indicator that you’re trying to copy the film. But the big red switch of lockdown clicked and it meant this gear had to be turned off along with much of the country. When that happens, the equipment is essentially dead. All bets are off. So that needed sorting, then there were one or two other things that blew up when we turned them on and we needed to work out what was worth resuscitating and what wasn’t. And on the technical side of things, not much was salvageable.
Kevin and team winning Cinema of the Year, 2018
But there was a really old 35mm projector that did survive, right?
Yes indeed. That’s mechanical, analogue, old school. I’ve been working with that sort of thing since I was 14 years old. I can keep a movie going on one of them with just my right finger and a roll of duct tape, so bringing that back to life was easy. It's the digital stuff that sometimes stumps me, when it's just a black box and all you can do with it is turn it off and on again. But the 35mm works a charm and we're going to start by showing one 35mm movie a week, alongside all the digital stuff.

In laymen’s terms what does the 35mm offer the audience?
It’s all part of the analogue revival, isn't it? It’s difficult to argue that a big resolution audio file or a CD is worse than vinyl, for example. But people want to engage with vinyl. It’s the same with 35mm film.

It’s vinyl for the eyes?
Exactly! With all the joins and scratches and authenticity that comes with it. But I don't know if Brummies want to watch 35mm. I don’t have any historical data for The Electric at all. I have no idea what will work and what won’t; no idea what did work and what didn't, before our arrival. I have quite good instinct for that sort of thing but no hard evidence from the previous ownership. We’re going to run a mixture of first run movies, repertory cinema [old stuff] and still put on events. It’ll take us a while to work out what works and what doesn’t. We will need to feel our way. But having run a cinema for 28 years I like to think we have an idea of what appeals. I mean, we're not 'playing cinemas', we're professionals. Very good at what we do. Plus, in Uckfield we have a population of just 18,000 and about 90,000 in our catchment area. We punch way, way above our weight, but there are many things I like to do here that maybe fall flat sometimes, because the audience just isn’t there in large enough numbers. But the population of Birmingham is... what?

1.1 million.
Hahaha! So you’d hope there would be enough like-minded idiots who will want to engage with my kind of thing.
Kevin (right) aged five, in a cinema projection room with his little brother
The Electric's ticket hall, 1930s
That lack of historical data, presumably, means the people of Birmingham should expect the unexpected.
Yep, completely. I’m mindful of how beloved it is, so I don’t want Brummies walking in and looking around and saying "what the hell is this sh*t?" But at the same time we have to move forward. I’m not too concerned with the competition — I won’t be chomping at the bit to show the latest Marvel movie in the first week it’s out, because that’s taken care of by your IMAXs and Odeons. It sounds like marketing schtick but it really isn’t, when I say I want to make The Electric the go-to place for film lovers, because that's what I am. But it’s also a business so it’s a balance of running the stuff we enjoy and making sure we take money. If we showed just films that I like, we would have gone out of business years and years ago. We need to understand the audience and my daughter, Katie, has moved up to Birmingham to do just that, and she’s as nuts about cinema as me. She’ll be there speaking to the visitors, learning from them. Finding out what they want, from what sort of films they like to how they take their coffee. There’s a strong sense of ownership about The Electric and that’s what we want to engender. It's Birmingham's cinema, not ours.  

I guess the most common criticism of The Electric would be that it’s starting to look a little shabby. Is that something you’re addressing?
Oh that’s interesting and good to hear, in a way. I’ve been sort of tiptoeing round that, given the outpouring of love for the place that we've experienced. Because, honestly, it’s not looking great in parts and I guess changing that can be a delicate matter. You need to retain the charm but bring things up to date. First and foremost we need to get it technically up to snuff. The picture and the sound need to be as good as possible and then we have to work on the seats. We'll keep the sofas, for now, and maybe replace them later, but with new sofas. I already sense you Brummies love those sofas, right? It’s an expensive process, so changes have to be made incrementally. But you’ll be pleased to learn that we already have two completely new toilets and that’s a positive step, as anyone who had to go that basement gents can testify. You didn't know if you were coming out of there alive.
When will it be finished?
Give us three years and it will be perfect. The best cinema in Birmingham. But come and see us right away as it's already much better than it was.  
The Electric opens tomorrow (January 21) showing Belfast (see review below). New memberships are available and very tempting they are too. 
Venue: Tierra, 53 Frederick St, B1 3HS; Website 
Choice: Grilled Octopus tacos (£7.50) Chooser: Lydia 

To break kayfabe for a minute, I haven't eaten at Tierra since they were a Stirchley pop-up and, as exciting as it all was, it didn't quite hit the gastronomic top notes of sister restaurant Tiger Bites Pig. Since finding permanent digs on the paved gold streets of the Jewellery Quarter, the reviews have skyrocketed and it's to the owners' credit that certain Mondays in January are being treated as a testbed of sorts; a showcase for their in-house chefs to flex their culinary muscle on dishes that don't ordinarily fit the Mexican bill. This week the proving ground was handed to chef Hyeonu Ji, who arrived at Tierra via the usual route... Born in Yoseu, Korea, he moved to Uganda where he completed high school and switched to Birmingham to attend the College of Food. So far, so very standard! Graduating last year, he joined Tierra as a Commis Chef, just as the restaurant opened, and he's progressed to Chef de Partie. There was a hum of excitement in the diddy restaurant for his Korean taco one-nighter, the inspiration for which was the iconic Kogi bbq food trucks of Los Angeles and, most famously, Roy Choi’s fusion of classic Korean dishes with Mexican street food. The air of expectancy was, at times, visible on chef's face when he appeared at Tierra's tiny peep-hole pass to expedite his dishes. But did he deliver? Did he ever. Korean chicken thighs (£5) were tender and juicy with that sugary, salty sauce playing Pelé-grade tastebud keepie-uppie. The train wreck that was me trying to order tteokbokki (£5) was worth it when spicy, savoury Korean rice cakes came out, deep red in collar and whalloping in warmth. I later found out they remind Chef Ji of home, a country he misses, the snack he had as a kid. I have no comparator for this incarnation but I'd place good money on it having done his childhood proud. The only disappointing dish was the gochujang gritted pork taco with fresh apple and shiso leaf. Perhaps the rollickingly riotous other dishes out-powered these milder parcels, but even with that in mind they came across a little dry — the dippy egg side dish we ordered coming into its own as a Ross from Friends-style 'moist maker'. But it was the seafood that left the biggest emotional crater on planet Tom, with the soft shell crab (£7.50) coming fried in a light tempura batter with gochujang aioli. Smooth, subtle, silky but with the lightest of snaps to the batter, this dish tickled a smile to my face that's reappearing right now as I type. Eat this one when it's still hot and go at it until it's all gone. Incredibly, though, that wasn't the pick of the evening's eating. That honour fell to the grilled octopus with wok fried vegetables, sesame and nori (£7.50). The cephalopod is braised in soy and wine then grilled to finish, the inner meat juicy and bouncy and fresh, the exterior charred and rich and prominent. If there isn't a Fields Medal for umami-ology then there needs to be, and it needs pinning on Hyeonu Ji. At £50 for two (including tip), this was really decent value, especially given it's the sort of one-off you simply won't get to try often, and if you're not drinking there is no better time to take gastronomic gambles. When they pay off, they pay off big time. On the subject of which, Tierra have a tapas night on the way. Booky-booky. 

Follow Tierra on social for updates on new pop-ups:
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter   


The Troubles are hardly the lolziest of backdrops for director Kenneth Branagh's heart warming, soul-nourishing feel good flick, but somehow the juxtaposition of violently bleak meets kiddishly bright works with unadulterated splendour. We're in 1969 Belfast (where and when Branagh grew up) to track the life of a nine-year-old Protestant boy, Buddy, (wonderfully portrayed by Jude Hill) who lives with his mother, father, older brother, and grandparents. As The Troubles intensify, Buddy’s dad (Jamie Dornan, shedding his 50 Shades shackles and excelling) thinks it best for the family to move away, an idea that Buddy and his mother (Caitriona Balfe, again excellent) are against. The wider tale of escalating violence isn't one for Branagh, who instead takes us on a journey of familial and communal resilience — the thrills and spills of parenting and the battle of simply being a young boy — all the while provoking the sorts of gentle humour reminiscent of The Commitments or Brassed Off. Set to an upbeat soundtrack of classic songs, predominantly by Belfast legend Van Morrison, the undertone of the safety and security of 'home' being whipped away may not be something with which we can all relate, but the pillars and pitfalls of family will resonate with every audience member. A friend of mine refuses to watch black and white movies. Belfast demonstrates why he's an idiot. Out January 21


Birmingham's bartender-in-chief, Robert Wood, with this week's top tipple...

"If the cold bite of winter is getting too much and you need a bit of escapism, look no further than Colmore Row's all new bar and restaurant, Jamaya. A small slice of the Caribbean, right here in Brum, the drinks menu focuses on Jamaica with each cocktail named after a specific part of the rock. Boston Beach is a particularly famous area of the country known for its jerk pits, with locals and tourists alike travelling for hours to get their fix. Jamaya, which only opened in very late December, aims to capture this magic with not just their ‘Proper Jerk Chicken’ but also their Boston Beach cocktail. A Daiquiri when all said and done, but with the unmistakable flavour of jerk, their top-secret melange of spices are somehow infused into white Jamaican Jah45 rum. This drop is particularly poignant as it is, itself, a blend of unaged rums from the Hampden, Monymusk and New Yarmouth distilleries, rekindling an old-school style of dagger rum that was so celebrated in the 1940s. The jerk-infused cocktail is shaken together with the obligatory fresh lime and Caribbean cane sugar, alongside some rich and intense scotch bonnet chilli, wrangled into liquid form. The finished drink is served beautifully ice cold with the glass itself dusted with their house recipe jerk seasoning which, I have to say, gives it a wonderful aromatic quality as soon as one receives it. Drink with jerk wings." More


I'll admit, I was dubious. A Peaky Blinders dance show, on paper, can go one of two ways: a screaming success or a real fist-in-mouther. However, having seen a live performance to launch ticket sales, high in the studios above the Hippodrome, I can confirm it looks every bit the class act it needs to be. Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is a first of its kind production, opening on September 27  until October 2, with Brum quite rightly being their first port of call, before touring the rest of the UK. Written and adapted for the stage by Peaky Blinders creator, Steven Knight, it's directed and choreographed by Rambert’s Artistic Director, Benoit Swan Pouffer. Benoit has impressive pedigree, being former director of New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet before joining Britain's oldest dance company. The show picks up the story of the Peaky Blinders at the end of the First World War, following Tommy Shelby and Grace Burgess through their passionate love affair. While Tommy is building his gangster empire, Grace is operating as an undercover agent for Special Branch on a mission to get close to the heart of Tommy’s gang. Expect dazzling, athletic dance and stunning dramatisation, with the by-now iconic Peaky soundtrack performed by a live, on-stage band. The show will open in the trenches of Flanders before bringing Tommy back to Brum and, if the sneak peek performance is anything to go by, it promises big budget stuff and perfect entry-level material for those yet to be wooed by dance. From £22.50
The emoji quiz answers can be found here. Now let's never speak of it again. 

To celebrate the reopening of The Electric, artist Milan Topalović is offering 25% off all his greetings cards and prints that feature the beloved cinema. There's a nice Valentine's number in there to boot. Offer ends midnight January 31. More

Hong Kong popper-uppers, Blow Water, will be popping and upping at The Juke, Kings Heath, January 20 to 23. Expect Shanghainese pan-fried rice cake. Details 

Chef Rob Palmer, previously the main man at Peels (Hampton Manor) has flown the nest and will launch Toffs on Solihull's Drury Lane, in the spring. Instagram

If you fancy going to the Hare & Hounds to hear a talk entitled 'Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer' (£18), then fill your boots. Topics for conflab include (*checks notes*) 'Hiding In Plain Sight: How To Spot The Serial Killer Next Door'. Pizza after?
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Rob Wood
PICTURES: Focus Feature (Belfast)

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