Moseley photographer, David Rowan, splits his time between working for the Birmingham Museums Trust and woking as a freelance snapper. His profession takes him from the Museum Collection Centre, to the Museum proper, to his freelance studio at Grand Union and wherever commissions and his hobby calls him in between. Which, often, is below ground level. He talked me through just a tiny fraction of his portfolio of alternative Birmingham beauty...
"Being based in Brum my work has gravitated to the less stereotypically beautiful side of photography. I'm not saying Birmingham isn't beautiful, but it does have more than its share of darker corners, and that's where I find myself rather a lot. But I've also been drawn below the surface. I've pushed myself to find the less beaten path, the less hackneyed places — the places that are harder to get to and perhaps most people would rather not go."
"I started exploring just below the surface but in time have found myself going deeper and deeper. In fact, not long ago, I ended up in a pot ash mine a mile and half beneath the North Sea. It was for part of a series I've called Pacha Kuti [which may sound Amazonian but has Birmingham as its main muse]. This shot [above] is from that series. It's the council's underground car park which sat beneath Chamberlain Square. You may remember a ramp that ran under the arch-like walkway that connects the two wings of Birmingham Museum. It's gone now but down that ramp you would have found this car park. In fact in one of my photos [third one along] you can see the Lord Mayor's Rolls Royce. It always amazed me how the driver managed to swing it down the tight bends and into the parking bays with ease. I'd park my bicycle not far from it. You see the fire escape sign? Effectively that's pointing in the direction of that now long gone ramp. This shot is maybe 20 years old, it's now a plant room for the new Paradise site, I believe. The Lord Mayor now parks in the Council House courtyard. He has a Jaguar these days but I still park my bike next to it. The car park was built in the 60s, when the Central Library was going up..."
March 23rd 2017
"I was there almost 50 years later when the Central Library came down. The Birmingham Museum photographic studio overlooked the site. I had a fairly unique location and perspective on the demolition process, and from my window vantage point I took tens of thousands of photos. A small edit made it into the book Paradise 1974-2016 alongside the late Derek Fairbrother's images of the demolition of the previous library and construction of John Madin's building in the early 70s. I photographed from the window about once per week for the whole two and a half year demolition. The limited edition print is a photograph taken, I think, during the morning of March 23rd 2017, a point where the loan library bit was cut off from the rest of the main ziggurat, a moment when it stopped raining and the sun came out casting a shaft of light directly through the gap. It was a melancholy moment within a local landscape that was changing by the minute."
"There's a mushroom-shaped tunnel that technically you can access near Star City, but you probably shouldn't. It's pitch black so I took lighting down with me, as you can see. One of my overriding memories, because this was ten years ago now, was the sound down there. It was absolutely terrifying. You're underground but there's nearby traffic and railways. The noise they make in this narrow tunnel that's about a quarter of a mile long is a seriously unnerving rumble — I think because the sound waves arrive at odd times. It's hard to explain it, but my word is it unsettling. Video
A decade ago I would be approached by drunks or, to be honest, people struggling with drug dependencies, while in these sorts of spots. I'm not suggesting that problem is solved — we can all see it categorically isn't — but for some reason I'm more likely to bump into architecture students or people on photo walks, asking me what camera I'm using. I can't explain it, but there really has been a shift in that direction.
"All that said, you shouldn't really go into these places at all and you definitely shouldn't go in if there's a downpour on the cards. Some of the spaces that are utterly dark are about 45 minutes to an hour away from the entry point. You start to really feel the fear when the graffiti ends and the walls become bare. Then you know you're in relatively unchartered territory"
The Dark River
"There's a lot of intersectionality in Birmingham. Layers. Canal, railway, motorway, pathway. It's really pronounced in and around Spaghetti Junction. And because Birmingham doesn't have a major river and it doesn't have a major underground transport network, those layers tend to be easier to gain access to. And with our main river small and low level, it does allow for spaces to explore — allows you to see the layers of history and building and industry in ways that you can't with the Trent or the Thames. I've done a series on the Rea called The Dark River. This shot [above] is right near Fazeley Street, Digbeth. I remember going down into the Rea to get some shots and some kids passed me by kicking a football about. They were lovely lads, in their trainers — with me in waders and protective gear. They wandered into the tunnels with one torch between all of them, heading off to Star City. It was clear this was their regular route. They just vanished into the pitch black, no fear at all."
I did a whole series called Beneath Paradise. I'm not a Central Library fanboy, as I know many are, but I didn't hate it either. My parents moved to Birmingham in 1975, when I was three, and I have memories after that of going into town to watch Star Wars. I vividly remember all these clean subways and this smooth and clean concrete library. Then I remember, in my teenage years, skateboarding around there on Sundays when the shops weren't open — really happy memories. Then, seeing it decline, I think that's what bothers me. Not so much the demolition but the deterioration. Perhaps there needs to be more of a lower carbon conversation about removing the stuff that ruins the buildings rather than defaulting to levelling them. But what do I know? I'm a photographer who spends most of his time in the dark...
I, for one, am still feeling the residual joy from the 2022 iterations of both Mostly Jazz and Moseley Folk festivals, so further reveals on headline acts and food offerings have sent my serotonin absolutely gangbusters.
We can exclusively reveal that US disco legends KC & The Sunshine Band will headline the Sunday night at Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul, which will be bringing the undiluted love to Moseley Park, July 7 to 9. The band scored 10 UK Top 40 hits, including dance floor bangers Queen of Clubs, Get Down Tonight, That's The Way (I Like It), (Shake Shake Shake) Your Booty and Boogie Shoes. They're also the geniuses behind Please Don't Go (which made many a juxtaposing appearance on Netflix show Dahmer, last year) and the 1983 smash (Nahnahnahnah...Baby) Give It Up! (Give it up! Baby give it up!)
Also just added to the the Mostly line-up are London Afrobeat and highlife influenced eight-piece Kokoroko and musician and BBC 6Music host Huey Morgan who will be presenting a DJ set just before KC come on. That's going to be a bananas few hours, isn't it? Tickets available right now.
Not to be outdone, far from it in fact, sister festival Moseley Folk have revealed even more of their hand for their September 1 to 3, brouhaha at the same Moseley spot. Silly O'Clock kitchen singalongs to Irish legends, The Saw Doctors, can be re-lived, only at a more appropriate hour and without the risk of a knock-knock from the neighbours, as they have signed up to headline the Saturday night. It's unlikely that there is a sound more suited to the late summer get-together than the Galwegian six-piece who were plucked from obscurity, in 1988, to support The Waterboys on the Fisherman’s Blues tour. The rest, as they say, is history. They join the previously announced Squeeze, Blindboy, The Proclaimers (THE PROCLAIMERS!) and Angeline Morrison among many, for the three-dayer, tickets for which are on sale tomorrow, 10am. Be warned: Saturday is likely to be the day to sell out first and fast, thanks in no small part to The Saw Doctors, who haven't been in Brum since a sell out 2017 show.
Alongside unveiling the full music bills, the festivals have also announced their street food line-ups with Bonehead, Original Patty Men, Far East Asian specialists Brum Mì, The English Indian (famed for his award-winning Indian take on fish'n'chips), Cleopatra's Kitchen, Zindiya, West Midlands Jerk Centre, Bournville Waffle Company, That's Amore and Good Food Cartel among the names to appear at both. Blimey. Book now is the point I'm trying to make. Like, soon-soon!
TICKETS FOR A TENNER
With meteorological inevitability, summer will return and with it will come the Vitality Blast T20 cricket at Brum’s beautiful Edgbaston Stadium. And because you’re a savvy ICB subscriber, you now have access to an exclusive priority window to get tickets at the best prices.
Twenty20 cricket promises to, yet again, be the go-to event sporting in the West Mids once the big yellow ball of flames graces our skies in earnest, and Birmingham Bears will host seven games in total. These will include a Family Fun Day on Bank Holiday Monday, May 29, two Friday night games and the first ever Blast Off double-header match on Saturday, May 20.
The highlight of the summer is the big local derby against Worcestershire Rapids (boo-hiss-boo) on Friday, June 23. Some 17,000 fans attended in 2022, and here’s your chance to be part of the pack in 2023.
Expect lots of family entertainment at all games, with inflatables and live music – plus world class, fast-paced cricket on the field. Under 16s are only £5 to all T20 games while adult tickets are available from just £10 during this priority window (that’s a saving of up to £15 per ticket, just because you read this weekly email). But hurry, you are guaranteed the best prices until midnight on February 20. Your window is now open here.
PIP & PALS & PINTS
"In a post surgical drug-induced haze," says Pip Bradley "I decided to set up my own markets company — Pip & Pal's." Pip, you'll know this by now, is the creator of Pip's Hot Sauce, Brum's runaway chilli-powered condiment success story. On top of that, though, she now runs regular markets with the next one popping-up at Attic Brew Co, Stirchley, this Sunday (February 19), 1pm to 5pm.
"Having attended markets for a decade and having built up some great friendships with other traders and venues, it dawned on me that I was in a brilliant position to set something up. So after testing the water last year it's all go for Pip & Pal's, this weekend.
"We all know what's going on in the economy right now and it's tough for us all. Really tough. But if you're in a position to treat yourself or your loved ones, please remember your independents. Without them we are looking at a world of bland High Street monotony.
"Sorry, got all serious then, didn't it? Come down to Pip's & Pals! YAY!"
MOVIE PICK: MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES
Responsible for reducing a 42-year-old and his ten-year-old daughter to tears at the exact same moment, Marcel The Shell With Shoes is out at cinemas tomorrow and is the half term movie godsend you categorically should be in the market for. Part animated, semi-mockumentary, the film follows a walking, talking mollusc that attempts to wield the power of the internet to find his long-lost family, all with the help of his new found off-screen pal and human, Dean. The movie came about after a series of YouTube shorts featuring Marcel clocked up untold clicks, convincing execs at studio du rigueur, A24 (Everything Everywhere All At Once, Aftersun, The Whale), to go long. If you're all Pixar-ed out, well, what we've got here is something original, something that can actually teach us about navigating life and the blistering obstacles it can pelt at us. There are themes of friendship, loss, loneliness, grief and, perhaps most poignantly, family, here, but at no point do those themes feel forced. The entertainment is whimsically wholesome, the visuals could melt a heart from a thousand miles and the teary-eyed ugly laughs will live long in the memory. A triumph. Trailer
The rib-tickling rise of Closeup Comedy on Brum's stand-up circuit continues as they announce the arrival of both Angelos Epithemiou and Spencer Jones in the coming weeks. Spencer is first up, two weeks today (March 2) headlining at Hockley Social Club alongside Freddy Quinne, Jonny Pelham and Dave Longley. Jones, a modern day Tommy Cooper, packs silliness in by the barrel full, usually gaining his first guffaw before saying a word and sometimes even managing it before coming on stage. Expect sight gags galore and, most likely, the jauntiest of DIY soundtracks, just as in his recent TV show, The Mind Of Herbert Clunkerdunk. If you've not experienced Jones, then let this appearance on Harry Hill's ClubNite be your baptism of fire. Meanwhile burger van man, Angelos (pictured), will be hitting south Brum's Herbert's Yard in Longbridge, on May 3 and early bird tickets are only £8. Unwitting star of Shooting Stars, Dave's One Night Stand and Channel 4's The Angelos Epithemiou Show, the shambolic cult favourite will headline alongside three as yet unnamed others bringing, we hope, his trusty plastic bag with him. Book now
Michael McIntyre plays two nights at Utilita Arena (the old NIA) in May, 2024. Tickets go on sale at 10am tomorrow (February 17) here. Speaking of May 2024, and speaking of the old NIA, Romesh Ranganathan has added an extra Brum date to his tour, opening up plenty of availability for tickets on May 30, next year. —
Smash hit Pretty Woman: The Musical will show at the Alexandra Theatre, October 17 to 28. Tickets from £13. Mother's Day gift? I dunno. — Dinosaur World LIVE! is at Warwick Arts Centre Feb 25 and 26, if you're on the look out for a nice way to wave off half term. £16 —
Burger fanboys will descend on Herbert's Yard, Longbridge, February 23 to 26 where they'll be greeted by a wall of top vendors slinging out their burgery best. Brum street food royalty, Flying Cows, are present. More —
This month's "thing I would have loved to have done but typically can't" is the Riga Toni night at Trentina, February 28. The usually authentic JQ Italian is letting its hair down and embracing the wild American influence for one night only. Limited availability. —
There's a bloody bouldering centre under the Snowhill/JQ arches and it looks brilliant. Every Monday they do beginner classes, giving you the skinny on safety, how it works and basic techniques. It's £15 per person which covers shoe hire, admission and instruction. They sell beer too, but maybe best to leave that till post climb.
WORDS: Tom Cullen
We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.
We've crossed the seas together
And we've had our ups and downs
We've gone farther than we ever dreamed from our county Galway town
Well if we're on top tomorrow
Or if it all just ends
Never mind the strangers 'cause I'll always be your friend
Until the end