Thunderously good arty fest, Birmingham Weekender, returns August 27 to 29 with 100 free events at Bullring & Grand Central. Surrounding New Street Station concourse, Birmingham Markets and 1000 Trades Square the annual cultural shindig combines dance, music, film, performances and installations across the shopping destination featuring many of the best artists from Brum and the West Madlands. Produced by Birmingham Hippodrome, it'll take over the entire footprint of the beating heart of the city with events taking place on the malls, in shop units and in some of the outdoor areas including Rotunda Square and St Martin’s Square. Crack open the culture bone and suck out the marrow...
How about some giant robotic puppetry from the Autin Dance Theatre Company? In a dystopian future (is there any other kind?) waves wash EKO, a sentient Sea Giant, onto the shore. There he encounters vulnerable Violet. These two beings — an ancient creature, a young girl — offer their stories: an impactful dialogue around Earth’s climate emergency, told through dance, movement and masterful puppeteering. Ideal for children and family audiences, but a story about the power of understanding that speaks to the world at large.
Where and when? Friday (Aug 27) at 2pm in Rotunda Square and at 5.30pm in Central Street | Saturday (Aug 28) at 12.30pm and 4.30pm in Rotunda Square and at New Street Station Concourse respectively | Sunday (Aug 29) at 11.30am in Rotunda Square and at 1.30pm at New Street Station Concourse
A pole-based dance and theatre piece from Leamington Spa's Motionhouse, WILD is an urban forest in the everyday of the city. Using the powerful physicality distinctive to Motionhouse, performers use dynamic choreography, acrobatic movement and hand-to-hand partnering to move through a forest of tall poles. From the top of the pole, life in the canopy looks down onto the forest floor — a dangerous world of unknown meetings. This trailer is well worth a nosy.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) at 1pm and 3.30pm in Thousand Trades Square Square Sunday (Aug 29) at 12pm and 2.30pm in Thousand Trades Square Square
BIG GAY DISCO BIKE
In one of the finest uses of a 'Ronseal' title in recent times, Big Gay Disco Bike is exactly what it sounds like, a feel–good pop-up big gay disco performed on a bicycle. Join cabaret superstar, vocal powerhouse, and overwhelmingly modest drag icon, Fatt Butcher, as the D-I-S-C-O lands in the 0-1-2-1.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) at 2pm to 4pm Fatt will roam Central Street and Brum Markets.
Gandini Juggling bring their award-winning sensation SMASHED our way with the dark art of juggling. Eighty apples, nine performers, four crockery sets— Gandini cordially invite you to a tea party unlike any other. At the forefront of contemporary circus for over 20 years, and having performed in over 40 countries, this award-winning sensation is a mesmerising mix of circus and theatre.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) at 1.45pm & 3.45pm at Bullring's Lower West Mall (near Disney)
Stan’s Cafe offers a grain of truth about our planet: every grain of rice represents someone, somewhere. For this beautifully simple performance installation, the artists build small and large mounds of rice representing political and social realities in the world: one grain of rice for the Queen, twelve grains for people who have walked on the moon, a pile for teachers in the UK and a small heap for millionaires in Europe. By making normally abstract statistics tangible and placing them in thoughtful relation to each other, this powerful work of art — Of All The People In All The World — is witty, shocking and ultimately moving.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) at 12pm to 6pm at Bullring's Upper West by the Customers Services desk Sunday (Aug 29) at 11am to 5pm at Bullring's Upper West by the Customers Services desk
SILENT DISCO TOURS
The Guru Dudu team presents Silent Disco Walking Tours fresh from a sell-out season at the Brighton Fringe. Go on a chortlesome dance-walk adventure through the Birmingham Weekender — headphones provided. Listen to the humorous commentary from your tour guide and immerse yourself in spontaneous flash mobs of dance and singing in the streets to uplifting tunes from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00's. Suitable for all ages but you will need to book.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) meet at Central St at the following times: 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm, 5.30pm Sunday (Aug 29) meet at Central St at the following times: 11.30am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm
Fierce Flow is a brand new circus-cum-dance show about black joy and block parties. In a phenomenal all black and POC cast, the team of party goers proficiently challenge what circus is and can be. Sexy, silly and bold in equal measure, it's all about taking up space outdoors in exciting and energised ways.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) at 1pm & 3pm at Bullring's Lower West Mall (outside Disney) Sunday (Aug 29) at 12pm & 2pm at Bullring's Lower West Mall (outside Disney)
Award-winning artist and British Composer of the Year, Ray Lee is an artist who makes music that moves. Born out of a fascination for the invisible forces that surround us, his spectacular sound art works have transfixed and delighted audiences the world over. Ray’s latest piece, Chorus, is a monumental installation of giant kinetic sculptures, a celestial choir of spinning sound machines. Towering above the audience, a series of giant metal tripods support rotating arms. At the end of each arm, loudspeakers emit precisely tuned musical pitches, singing out a siren call to all those present. Tiny lights create the effect of planets in motion, mesmerising orbits of colour. These intersecting lights trace rings above the heads of the audience, while the combined chorus of the spinning speakers creates a hypnotic, harmonious whole that is both uplifting and transfixing. Not to be missed.
Where and when? Saturday (Aug 28) at Rotunda Square at the following times: 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, 7.30pm Sunday (Aug 29) at Rotunda Square at the following times: 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm
A MERRY URBAN MESS
This looks like any kids' dream. Five characters with 16kg backpacks wander the streets for over an hour blasting out giant streamers from what look like steampunk versions of Ghostbusters proton paks. A torrent of confetti and ribbon will rain down upon you as French artists Cie Vernisseurs patrol the city, leaving colour and smiles in their wake.
Where and when?
St Martins Square and Rotunda Square (times and days TBC, the schedule will be updated here)
ALSO IN ATTENDANCE...
BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET: The BRB will be doing live rehearsals between 1pm and 4pm on the Friday at Bullring's Lower West Mall. STILT DJs: Nutkhut’s larger than life superstar DJs (on stilts, no less) bring banging Bhangra Beats from up high, wandering about the Weekender at various points. THE COMMENTATORS: Moseley Folk regulars and Stan's Cafe pair the Commentators will be bringing their sideways take on proceedings across multiple sites at multiple moments. Veh veh funny. FLATPACK FESTIVAL: Filmic sorts Flatpack will be taking over the big screen in St Martin’s Square across the weekend to present a series of short films. Delving into the archives to explore how the city and its inhabitants looked (and sounded) back in the 60s, 70s, 80s — expect to see a very different-looking Bull Ring. Saturday (12pm to 8pm) and Sunday (11am to 5pm). CAR HORN CONCERTO: Before Tomorrow was written by Fabien Levy in 2020, inspired by what was happening around us all at the start of the global pandemic. Here, a truly unique composition of six cars sounding their horns will play the piece on the 4th Floor Edgbaston Street Car Park at 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.30pm on Saturday and 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm on Sunday. FRICTION ARTS: A professional caricaturist will be offering free portraits to passers-by while the team members engage them in conversation about their pandemic. Key statements are added to the final portraits which are then publicly displayed as an outdoor exhibition. Saturday 12pm to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 4pm, around Birmingham Markets.
Times and locations are subject to change. Central Street is the pedestrian route that runs between Bullring's two wings. Full programme
Venue: A La Mexicana, 177 Sandon Rd, Bearwood, B66 4AB; Website Choice: Tacos (£9) Chooser: José
You heard it here thirty first, A La Mexicana is a joy-making experience. Even the downsides to this (dare I say it) "hidden gem" are upsides. How so? Because it's all so chuffing charming. Obviously done on a budget, it's Smethwick's suburban antidote to the paint-by-numbers, chewing gum for the eyes, South American chain whoppers that dominate the city centre. A La Mexicana was formally T C Hayes electrical and it looked more than a little like this. Now it's home to husband and wife team José and Patricia's family-run restaurant. Everyone in the kitchen, José tells me, is part of the family. It still carries those 70s style recessed modular ceiling lights, the fluorescent fitting sorts you'd find in any office of the era. Not exactly flattering, but chances are you're not here to look sexy. I wasn't. At £9 for three tacos I got a little carried away, ordering (Christ, I'm not sure I can admit this), 15 between two. The prawn option is the lightest by a gazillion miles (there's probably zero calories there so deduct three from the 15) with the chicken, chorizo, pork and al pastor options all doing good things in great places. Go for all of them in what I've 100% unofficially named 'The Rainbow Package'. Laden with fresh onion and chopped tomato, a lime wedge, scorched spring onions and coriander, I have absolutely no point of reference as to the authenticity, but people who know more than I and have at least been to Mexico seem to think they're pitch perfect. Regardless, they taste so sensational I might ask for all my correspondence to be delivered to A La Mexicana, effective immediately, where you’ll find me making a mess of myself with these parcels of pure passion. Be sure to order enough guac and salsa to satiate both your starter demands (which will be off the charts when you arrive and see others eating) and to add to your tacos as you see fit. The nachos and the guac are, simply put, the best I've ever had and I now realise I'd never had a good salsa before that day. I was the "hottest salsa you've got" idiot, at first, before quickly downgrading after a cartoon-style, steam from ears reaction that gave José a well-deserved belly laugh. The medium heat one, however, was otherworldly. On Saturdays they do conchinita pibil (see Meat & One Veg's review for how good that is) but this is very much an any day you can possibly attend, do so, sort of a deal. A quick word on José and Patricia, two of the smiliest people you'll ever meet. José was born in Guerrero in Southern Mexico before moving to Mexico City, then Tyler near Dallas. Pushed away from home as he sought asylum. Next stop? Bearwood! It's the classic story, isn't it? Kind, warm, lovely people with prices that are, frankly, too low. Unless you order 15 tacos. A booze license is on the way so maybe get in with a sneaky BYOB before you become a monthly margarita slurping regular. Menu
ALPHA BRAVO, ECHO PAPA
The World Cup of Birmingham's Best Buildings was, experts suggest, the seminal moment in Brum's illustrious Twitter polling history. Alpha Tower was, scandalously, knocked out in the group stages by New Street Signal Box and The Grand. There was uproar, with furious Alpha fans (or Alfans as they became known) taking to Twitter in their ones. One of them may have been (it wasn't) Elliot Packham, an artist based in the Old Print Works in Balsal Heath. He moved to Brumtown in 2012 to study at the University of Birmingham and has worked in the city ever since. His art, which is well worth a nosy, is inspired by a range of 20th century modernist architecture, which he developed a passion for whilst still at school. He's big into modernist buildings calling them "unfussy, clean and minimal with no ‘decoration’ to speak of. Everything that is seen serves a purpose." Elliott focuses on capturing a building’s overall form, along with the shadows and reflections it creates. This leads to a slightly abstract final result. The 28-storey tower block designed by noted Brum born architect George Marsh, was designated as a listed building in 2014 and, in Elliott’s opinion, is one of the most striking features of the city. The work is made by firstly creating a technical drawing of the structure and then introducing acrylic paint to fill in different parts, using masking tape to achieve straight lines. Each of his paintings takes upwards of 400 hours to complete. Before painting, Elliott photographed the building extensively in order to observe how it looked in different lighting conditions. He noticed how light from the low, early morning sun shone through into the interior walls and how it created a glimpse into the spaces within. You can even see the effect of workers lowering their blinds. Prints start at £89. More
"ENJOY EVERY LAUGH YOU CAN"
The outpouring of emotion from the comedy circuit following the awful passing of Sean Lock yesterday tells its own story. Sean was always motivated to be as funny as possible, and how audiences and comedians alike loved him for it. The news is a stark reminder to enjoy every bloody laugh you can. One of the first to pay tribute to 'Locky' was the wonderful Chris Ramsey, who you can see at Symphony Hall as part of Birmingham Comedy Festival on October 10. Ramsey is a master of his craft and currently at the peak of his powers thanks to being a TV star, sell-out comedian and co-host of one of the biggest podcasts in Britain thanks to Shagged, Married, Annoyed (alongside his hilarious wife Rosie). Incredibly groupings up in "the gods" (Grand Tier) are still possible (£25). Of the newer acts, Josh Pugh is a sensation. Imbued with funny and blessed with original thought, if Josh isn't a household name inside five years, it would be a comedic injustice. You simply have to see him at Cherry Reds where entry is free, October 10. Other terrific rising stars to grace John Bright Street that day, this time at The Victoria, include Celya AB, whose slick writing makes her one to watch, and the same goes for Eric Rushton, who won 2020 Leicester Comedy Festival's Comedian Of The Year (previous winners include Romesh Ranganathan, Johnny Vegas and Jason Manford). There's also the chance to see more established names, such as the always-outstanding Dane Baptiste. Simply one of the best comedians working today, he plays The Glee on October 10, tickets are just £14. Like the US comedian Bill Burr, you might not always agree with everything that Dane says but, by god, you'll laugh uproariously. And do yourself a favour and see an icon in action: Jenny Eclair, a titan of British comedy, celebrates turning 60 with a new show at The Old Rep, October 10, £21.50.
Indian pop-up The Mutton Man is getting rave reviews on Instagram. His next round of (apparently) not-to-be-missed chops (£13) will be served at The Church Inn (JQ) on August 30 (bank holiday Monday). DM him on Insta to book. —
Tickets for Foo Fighters at Villa Park (June 2022) go on sale here, tomorrow (Friday, Aug 20) at 9am.
Hit The Ode returns to Birmingham Hippodrome October 15 — poetry and spoken word aplenty. Pre-book for £5.
We're at the tail end of Ikon Gallery's frankly brilliant A Very Special Place exhibition which closes Aug 30. Speaking of Ikon, they've teamed up with Selfridges for the all new Migrant Festival which runs from today (Aug 19) until Sunday (Aug 22).
Tickets have gone on sale for Midlands Arts Centre’s Deepvali, The Festival of Light. Expect a joyful evening of South Asian Diwali-inspired dance in early November when, let's face it, we are probably all in need of a splash of light. £8
Jimmy Carr: “Whats a normal day in the life of Sean Lock?” Sean Lock: “It’s just eight hours of sleep, six hours of hiding, two hours of regret and apologies, an hour of scratching and then... bit of telly.”
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