It’s a dark, rainy day in early December and the car park at MAC in Cannon Hill is near empty. But inside, there’s a riot of colour on the walls, and a small army of people milling about busy with last-minute preparations. Opposite me sits a man, wearing a pink, floral dress and a full face of make-up with a booming, infectious laugh. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (in which case, why have you been doing that?) you’ll recognise him as the artist Grayson Perry, and face of Channel 4’s Grayson’s Art Club. The show follows Perry and his wife, Philippa, as they create their own artworks and talk to artists and celebrities around the country about their artistic interpretations of a weekly theme. The exhibition, which includes artwork submitted to the show by the Great British public, is now open at MAC. Amidst the wine glass polishing and picture frame straightening going on around the us, I chatted to Grayson and Philippa about Birmingham’s coolness problem, the city’s patron saint and therapy...
Grayson you’ve been quoted saying you suspect Birmingham might be the coolest city in the UK. Why is that? Grayson: I think the thing about Birmingham is that it hasn’t been officially designated cool yet. Cool is a terrible thing to be described as. Philippa: That’s what’s great about it, not what the problem is! G: That’s what I mean! It hasn’t yet been deemed cool in the collective conscience of the nation. It’s in danger of becoming that though. Now you’ve got the Art Club exhibition here, I mean. And you’ve had the Commonwealth Games. It’s no longer the glorified roundabout that it is in most people’s consciousness. Next, you’ll have people moving here from London and before you know it, Birmingham will be the Hackney of the Midlands. Birmingham is at a difficult moment. Do you want to embrace the possibilities of becoming cool? Creatively, I think it’s a bit of a downer being cool. P: And Joe Lycett is your patron saint.
Joe is a friend of the show, his art (above) is in the exhibition and you have lots of comedians as guests. Is there a reason comedians seem to be drawn to creating art? G: They take risks. Making a joke is always a bit of a risk. You don’t know if the other person is going to laugh. Comedians are willing to trust their intuition and take a punt. P: And it’s quite a creative process, isn’t it? Being funny. And during lockdown, a lot of comedians didn’t have anything better to do! So, we got them on the show.
And how did Art Club end up at MAC? G: If you’d have asked me before we found out that MAC wanted the exhibition here, I would have said Birmingham would be the ideal place. P: It’s in the middle. It’s a good place to get to. People always say “When are you going to come to Cornwall?” And I say, “Get on a train!” G: That’s the raison d’être of Birmingham. In medieval times, it was a communications hub. It wasn’t particularly easy to defend and didn’t have any particular natural resources. P: They came here for the Bull Ring, Gray. G: Shopping? P: No, in ancient times!
Philippa, you’re a therapist as well as an artist. Are art and therapy connected? P: The great thing about therapy is it helps intuit feelings into words. But sometimes there are no words. So you can put your feelings into art. Into music. Into sculpture. It’s a form of expression and it can make you feel like making something. Sometimes when you see a work of art, or hear a song, you feel like “That person really understands me!”. If you make art in an authentic way without trying to be like someone else, you just make it from your gut, even if you can’t put it into words, somebody else might recognise that gut feeling. It’s about taking your feelings and turning them into something else, so you can handle them more easily.
Having watched the show, I feel like I know you guys. In my mind, we’re BFFs now. Are you getting that a lot? G: People love Art Club which is very heart-warming. But it’s weird because it's the thing that’s made us the most famous of anything we’ve done. And yet, for the first year or two, because of lockdown, we couldn’t really experience it. It wasn’t until things started opening up again that we got the full effect. P: People say very funny things. They come up to us in the supermarket and say, “IS IT REALLY YOU?!” and I just want to say “No, I’m a ghost” or, “Maybe”. They’re very sweet though.
What was it like being filmed every day? P: At that point of the pandemic, television couldn’t get made in the usual way. But we could make television in our studio. We have a big space that we could put robot cameras in. We couldn’t have production crews in there, so they were all stood outside freezing, in the driving rain, operating the cameras. G: That’s what gives the programme its character. It makes the whole thing more relaxed when you don’t have big, galumphing techie guys wandering around your space. P: And because we didn’t have any people around, we’d forget about being filmed and just be shouting to each other “Do you want a banana?”. I remember once Grayson said “Are you coming?” and I said [mimics frowning and typing furiously into her phone] “No, someone is wrong on the internet!” and all the cameras zoomed around to watch me. I immediately shouted “Scrap that! Don’t use that!”
The show has obviously struck a chord with a huge audience, and I think its authenticity is a big part of that. Is that what you wanted from the show, to democratise art? G: We didn’t have a plan. We knew people were stuck at home, so we wanted to give them something to do. P: When we started, we didn’t even realise it would end in an exhibition. G: The basic concept was there, but it got refined as we went along. We didn’t have a clue how popular it was going to be. And it very quickly became a phenomenon.
Grayson’s Art Club: The Exhibition III is now open at MAC Birmingham until April 2023. Booking is essential and it’s Pay What You Choose. Words: Laurie Prescott Photos: Richard Ansett, Katja Ogrin & Tegen Kimbley
REVIEW: AVATAR — WAY OF WATER
There’s a kind of irony-poisoned brain that loves to dunk on the first Avatar, dismissing it as Pocahontas in space. Sure, the analogies are there, but did Pocahontas end with the Native American princess leading a successful and merciless revolutionary insurgency against the evil colonial invader? Where a guy jumps out of a crashing heliship in a robot suit? While he was on fire?
Now, after years of delays caused by a mixture of COVID and perfectionism, action titan James Cameron’s follow-up is finally here. And much like the first film, it’s a thing of wonder – if you check your too-cool-for-school notions at the door, as some of the more smart-arsed critics out there have been unable to.
A decade on from the events of the first film, our hero Jake Sully (tenner if you remembered his name) is still living on Pandora after abandoning his human body, now with a burgeoning family in tow. Their Edenic bliss is rudely interrupted when the humans and their imperialistic ways return, reigniting a guerrilla war where the blue-skinned Na’vi come across as a mix of the Flintstones and the Taliban.
However, Jake’s now as much a father as a fighter, so when the war comes home he’s forced to seek refuge with a water-dwelling tribe and in the process we’re treated to a parade of underwater visual delights that would have Steve Zissou choking on his pipe.
Yes, the environmental message takes us to corny territory, and Christmas has come early for fans of finding every movie 20 minutes too long. But after a decade plus where visual effects have come to feel same-ey and just not very special, it’s refreshing to enjoy a totally sincere spectacle where not a second feels phoned in, and that actually goes places you don’t expect. And rest assured, the hour-long battle at the end absolutely rocks. Out tomorrow, December 16
BOOK NOW: BRUM'S BEST FESTIVALS
Hard to imagine Mostly Jazz and Moseley Folk festivals improving on their, frankly, magical 2022 iterations but judging by the line-ups, holy pretzel, they're giving it a bloody good go. Early Bird tickets are available for both and because you're more organised than Mafioso crime, you know now's the time to bag tickets and save some spondoolies.
The first wave of artists for Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul, which takes place July 7 to 9 (can you almost feel the warmth?) includes New Zealand's Fat Freddy's Drop — rightly name-checked on the regs as one of the best live acts on the planet. The Kiwi seven-piece embrace sunshine reggae, psychedelic soul, and R&B, earning them more awards than you can wave a festival flag at.
Also on the rostrum is Wolverhampton's own Goldie, who first made his name as a graffiti artist, but quickly emerged as a 90s musical force, as is a DJ set from Mercury Prize nominated Jungle, who can boast a slick 700,000 records sold worldwide and over three million monthly listeners on Spotify.
They're joined by the irrepressible Mr. Scruff, Mostly faves Crazy P Soundsystem, songwriter Eva Lazarus, legendary DJ Norman Jay and BBC Radio 1Xtra, with further line-up additions announced in the New Year.
Come September (1st to 3rd) it's the turn of Moseley Folk & Arts Festival with its seventeenth (!!!) Brum shindig. Cool cats and conjurors of classic track Cool For Cats, Squeeze, will be making their debut, while memorable singalong of the weekend is most likely to come courtesy of The Proclaimers who return after last appearing in 2016. Over on the speakers stage, among many properly big names, will be one half of Irish comedy duo, the Rubberbandits', Blindboy whose runaway success of a podcast almost single-handedly got at least one Birmingham-based e-magazine editor through the entirety of lockdown.
Both festivals include workshops, classes and excellent foodie options and take place at the idyllic Moseley Park. Hand-on-heart they provide, without fail, some of the city's most memorable musical moments. If you like to see thousands of people smiling, accept no substitutes.
For a limited time Early Bird tickets are priced at £130 (plus £10.40 booking fee). There are also deals for under 18s and family tickets too. Jazz, Folk
THAT BUBBINS GUBBINS
There was a time – not that long ago – when a comedian could do well on a TV show and their life would change forever. Like Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow taking a punt on a young scamp by the name of Kevin Bridges in 2009. “Star-making” is an understatement.
Fast forward to 2022 and it’s not necessarily via telly where comedians become touring superstars these days (there is the rare exception, such as the terrific Maisie Adam); rather, it’s via podcasts and social media.
Take mighty Mike Bubbins, who you can catch at Glee on March 15 as part of his Throwback tour. The Welsh firebrand has been performing stand-up since 2008, chalking up appearances here and there on the likes of Josh Widdicombe sitcom Josh and Jon Richardson panel show Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier.
But it was the smash-hit podcast The Socially Distant Sports Bar — mind-boggling to think it only launched in 2020 – that truly catapulted Bubbins to richly deserved breakthrough success. Created during lockdown as three sports-loving pals (sports journalist Steffan Garrero, plus comedians Bubbins and Fantasy Football League’s Elis James) struggled to cope without live sport, it was soon apparent that many more people felt the same way. Yes, TSDSB is ostensibly about sport. But, like the best podcasts, it’s the random tangents and the fact you feel like you’re hanging out with three pals that helped the show pop. It's gone on to sell out theatres while hoovering up awards in the process.
And now Bubbins is embarking on his first-ever solo tour; Throwback promises to be a frankly rocking night of comedy with the man himself very much focused on the funny. Expect belly laughs, anecdotes, nostalgia (Bubbins always looks like he’s stepped off an episode of The Sweeney) and – crucially – mountains of charisma. Should you ever question if you’re watching too much sport, think of him. It changed his life forever. £21.35
CHRISTMAS PUD, BUT YOU WOULD
They called it The Poll Seen Round The World when, last year, a tweet of ours went viral, scoring (count them) three retweets and one like. It asked if you actually like Christmas Pudding and you voted in your tens. A whopping (and kind of Brexity) 51.1% of Brummies don't like Xmas pud, and quite right too. Anything you choose to set on fire, by its very nature, is surplus to requirements.
Step forward Kings Heath's Early Bird Bakery with a desserty alternative. They're taking orders right now for fancy afters that, frankly, will be the highlight of the meal however good you've convinced yourself your roasties are. Best sellers, obviously, include the mince pie and pastry big hitters, but for a finesse finish to Big Day™ din-dins it's all about their whole Baileys and white chocolate entremet, (above, £40). A beaut base layer of crispy cereal and milk chocolate supports indulgent chocolate Guinness cake, with Baileys and chocolate cremoux, hazelnut praline, white chocolate mousse and milk chocolate glaze. All thriller, no filler, it's the Xmas pud-conquering queen of sweets. They have a Black Forest entremet too (below, hubba-hubba-hubba) for the same price but with healthy fruits!
This year, though, I wont be going for either entremet, despite them being a gifts from the ganache-y gods. Thanks to the invention of something called "children" I'll be plumping for the £27.50 whole Snickers brownie that looks like it'll be winning me, at the very least, a post-dinner port and snooze.
Chocolate Guinness cake, raspberry frangipane and a preposterously beautiful looking clementine and almond cake also make the grade this year. They're doing delivery (£4) to all B-postcodes on December 23 or 24 (your pick) with collection also available. All items will arrive in presentation boxes or gift wrapped, and you can include a gift message. More
Square, Detroit-style pizza bought by the slice is heading for Kilder (nextdoor to Original Patty Men, under the railway arches), this weekend, Dec 16 and 17, courtesy of Redditch-based Little Nick's Pizza. Grab yours tomorrow 5pm to 9pm or Saturday 12pm to 9pm, or until sellout. It's gonna sellout isn't it? More —
Speaking of pizza, the Willy Wonkas of the 'Za world, Crazy Pedro's have emerged from their tequila-powered lab having conjured The Ghost Of Christmas Past(y). This festive pizza comes topped with a blend of Pedro’s white pizza sauce, festive bakes, pigs in blankets, stuffing, gravy, cranberry ketchup and sage. Served all day, every day from their Custard Factory home until The Big Man™ lands. Details —
The "Wimbledon of squash" will be hosted in Brum for the first time since 2001, with earlier stages at Edgbaston Priory and, get this, the latter stages at The Rep! Veh veh cool. April 9 to 16, tickets will go on sale on December 21 —
Longbridge-based street food nirvana Herbert's Yard will host Closeup Comedy on February 8, March 8 and April 5. The line-ups haven't been announced but Closeup is attracting serious names so a leap of faith is by know means madness. These will sell out. —
This is the last issue of I Choose Birmingham of 2022. Have a fabulous Christmas and so on and so forth. —
You're still here? It's over. Go home. Go!
WORDS: Laurie Prescott, Andrew Lowry, James Gill, Tom Cullen
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"It’s not like learning to play the violin, where you can be demonstrably talented at a young age. With art, you really need to find your own voice and that takes a while. Actually, it’s a marathon – and if you are eventually original, you’re lucky."