Issue 369
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A COMMONWEALTH OF TALENT

The giant balcony bit of the Library of Birmingham is buzzing with activity. Countless TV and radio crews are hovering (not literally) around the four Brummies chosen in a team of six to produce the Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies. Branded microphones are being placed under noses as the region's mass media goes to work. I strongly suspect, however, that there is only one weekly, niche email about the best things to do in Brum present, and that's THIS ONE. And as I prepare to chat to both Peaky Blinders bigwig and soon-to-be ceremony producer Steven Knight, *and* art director and theatre impresario, Iqbal Khan, I get out not one but (count them) two dictaphones. And people say men can't multitask...    
IQBAL KHAN: How come you have two dictaphones?

ICB: Insurance. I can put one away?
IK: (Laughing) No that's okay. I think I can handle the pressure of two. 

Speaking of pressure, do you feel under a lot of the stuff to deliver these ceremonies. 
IK: Not at this stage, no. We're at the beginning and it's dreaming time, you know? Right now I'm just full of the excitement and am privileged to get the chance to celebrate this place, at this time. To celebrate Birmingham and the West Midlands. And tell its story and share it with the world.   

What is Birmingham's story? What what do you know you want to tell the world. 
IK: How pioneering this place has been. Still is. How it's always had a kind of punkish radical spirit. Through the ages, from the Lunar Society to the Civic Gospel and into the modern age. The way it's embraced the Commonwealth. I believe this is the premier Commonwealth city of the world, I'm a Commonwealth child, and from Birmingham, and our city is a great example to the world of how this union can work. I'm a walking, talking example.

It feels like there is a multicultural mix in the six people that have been chosen to spearhead this. How important do you think that was? 
IK: Absolutely central. That is *absolutely* critical. In Josh [Holness, aka rapper RTKal who's on ceremony music], Maeve [Clark, ceremony writer], Steven and me, we've got four people who have all come out of the Birmingham experience in different ways. And then we have Hamish Hamilton and Misty Buckley, who have BAFTA and Grammy nominations and wins coming out of their ears. So we have excellence and experience but critically people who have a personal stake in this place. 
And of course Hamish Hamilton worked on the Olympics opening ceremony in London 2012. Do you feel any degree of competition with what they delivered?
IK: No, not competition. I mean, they trod a certain line and we're very keen not to tell the same story that they told. We won't go down that path. There are other stories to be told about Birmingham and other ways to tell it. They've just done certain things that we don't then need to do. Don't want to. And it's the Commonwealth Games — it has a different spirit the Olympics. It has a naughtier, more playful side to it, so opportunity arises from that.

And perhaps Brummies have that naughtier, humorous spirit that could come through?
IK: Exactly that. That's exactly what we want to capture.

Steven, how long did it take you to say yes when the call came in?
STEVEN KNIGHT: Exactly half a second. I'm so privileged to be here, I can't tell you.

Was there, like, an interview process where you down to the final three?
SK: Hahaha. I don't think so... It was quite an informal process. It was suggested and I said "yes, obviously I'll do it."

What's the difference between executive producing [Steven] an artistic directing [Iqbal]? How does the work get divided up?
SK: It doesn't. Iqbal does all the work and I go "oooh that's very good, let's do that!"
IK: I suppose the ambition is for me to lead on the conversations and the provocations. And to sort of create a kind of tapestry of ideas and Steven's there as a critical eye, a sounding block and a collaborator. He has extraordinary expertise, obviously. So, I've got, like, a fairy godmother here!
SK: Can I have a badge made to that effect?

"I WANT TO MAKE THE PEAKY BLINDERS MOVIE RIGHT HERE IN BIRMINGHAM."
— STEVEN KNIGHT

Steven, have you spoken to [London Olympics director] Danny Boyle? Have you Whatsapped him and said Birmingham's coming for you?
SK: Funnily enough, I remember I was working at Three Mill Studios which is where the London ceremonies were put together, while they were working on it. And I remember really anxious faces. Huddled meetings.I witnessed a bit of the pressure as the date approached.

Iqbal doesn't, but do you feel pressure?
SK: I'm sure it will build but right now I just feel like this is an opportunity to do something fantastic. Fortunately, we've got together a team of people who've done this many times, and are probably the best in the world at it. And so a luxury for myself and Iqbal is that we can have these mad ideas and know we're in a room with people who will not only agree to them but deliver them.

Do you want some ideas?
SK: Go on.

Maybe the ceremony plays out to a mid-90s Snobs soundtrack with a giant Mr Egg mascot moshing to it.
IK: I'm taking mental notes, I promise.

I can email some thoughts over.
IK: Would you?

Steven, this must be a change of pace for you. What, in your vast experience will lend itself as of use to a mass scale, live event like this?
SK: Well, I've done live TV and I know the pressures of live telly and the rush that you get from it. But ultimately, a show is a show. Whether it's a circus performer, a busker, or a TV show. There's something that has to be right, and there's many things that can go wrong. But when you're dealing with people with the expertise and experience that are on this team, we all bring something to the jigsaw, so what we hope to achieve is something that is even more than the sum of its parts. Something magical. Something that transcends expectations. And so the audience in the arena and, moreover, the audience around the world, will really get the message about this city.

What will day one of work look like? Are you all sat in a room, there's a whiteboard, and you're all just throwing out ideas? I can't picture how something of this size even starts life.
IK: Yeah, that's not actually far off. It's a conversation. I don't think it needs to be a whiteboard, we can keep it nice and relaxed.

Oh you need a whiteboard.
IK: I'll get a whiteboard. But, I think we can sort of share what we each think it is, what our experiences of Birmingham have been, what stories do we each have to tell. And from there we craft a narrative.

Iqbal, tomorrow East is East returns to the REP and you're directing. What can we expect from from this incarnation of the show?
IK: I don't think the play's ever been as relevant as it is now, because it's a play that's ultimately about national identity and ethnic identity. The gender politics in it are problematic, interestingly so, and all of those conversations are happening right now, right here, in the mainstream as well as the margins, in a way that we've never had them before. The play has never been as current and as edgy as it is now. It's also incredibly funny and in a live context, it's so vibrant. It's a rollercoaster. So anybody that knows the film, and enjoyed the film, you have no idea how much more fun and surprising this play can be.

And I've got to ask, Steven, what's the latest on the Peaky Blinders movie?
SK: Okay, okay, I was in meetings yesterday and it 100% is going to happen.

When?
SK: We have a timeline and I want to tell you about it, but that timeline might change. So I can't! But it's coming soon. 

Can I have a walk on part?
SK: Absolutely. You'll play the part of Inspector Mr Egg. And I need you to walk on holding a Iqbal's whiteboard.

Ace. And could the studio, the planned studio you want to build in Digbeth, be used as a production set?
SK: I want the two things to coincide yes. I want to make the Peaky movie right here in Birmingham. But I really can't say more.

Good luck with the ceremonies. Do us proud.
SK: We absolutely will.

CIRCUS CIRCUS


There are 5243 miles between Coventry and Colombia and they don't fly direct from Coventry Airport. I've checked. Fear not, for Colombia has come to Cov, as one of two heart-in-mouth circuses to grace our neighbour's City of Culture celebrations. Both shows are taking place in the the city's Assembly Festival Garden, inviting you to enjoy the last of summer with world-beating acrobatics. Circolombia (above) runs daily (excluding Mondays) until September 19 and promises a perfectly mad feast of live music straight from the streets of Bogotá, as leading performers flip, swing, lift and balance with mind-boggling ability. Tickets are £15.
Also bringing the energy and running until Sunday, September 12 are 360 Allstars (below) — tagline: 'The Circus Has Been Reinvented'. Sold out on Broadway, sold out in Edinburgh, sold out at the Sydney Opera House and selling in Cov for just £10, expect BMX, basketball, breakdancing, beatboxing, acrobatics and drumming, all together in a supercharged production from an international team of World Champions and Guinness World Record holders. Ticket prices at both shows drop in price if making a family booking.

OPEN STUDIOS, OPENING SOON


The brilliant Birmingham Open Studios returns Sept 18-19 and 25-26, and it's bigger than ever before. The premise is simple but superb. Artists of all walks (paint, photography, print, illustration, craftwork) open their studios up to the general public, so we can all see where they work and how they work, as well as getting to buy pieces from the very place they're made. Traditionally focussed on Moseley and Kings Heath Open Studios will this year take in Bearwood, Edgbaston and Harborne too. Eighty artists are taking part in the free to attend four-dayer, including Balsall Heath-based Rachel Ackers (pictured) who creates bespoke wire and gemstone sculptures either in a frame or free formed to hang on a wall. Using the tree of life and flowers as her inspiration, she also creates wearable art jewellery. A map of all artists taking part can be found here, with some artists who are not able to accommodate guests in their workspaces taking up temporary home in public community spaces. Good people. Good idea. More

HALF PRICE HABANERO


Long time Pigeon Park-based Mexican food truck Habanero now have bricks and mortar at the nearby Great Western Arcade, about 150 metres from their van. The burrito specialists will be launching with a 50% off food discount today — September 2 — between 11.30am to 3pm at the new venue. The offer applies to main dishes (burritos, tacos, burrito bowls, nachos and salads) but not to side dishes and drinks. Everything you can get from the truck is available plus specials (teriyaki beef or jackfruit mole, today), new salads and chargrilled chicken. They're also now doing their homemade nachos which are, simply put, outstanding. The Habanero truck's eight year stay by St Philip's Square will be coming to an end in the not too distant future. They're hoping to reboot the restaurant on wheels with Cuban sandwiches and El Pastor options — watch this space for where and when. Not literally. This is an email and it won't change, however long you look at it. The new place is at the Snow Hill Station end of the Arcade, about here.

ARTY *AND* ARTISAN


Anyone who attended the first ever Edgbaston Village Artisan Market, back in early June, knew they were at something different. Not only did the sun come out but the music and the perfectly curated stalls combined for an event that stood out from the dozen-odd that make monthly market appearances. Such was the popularity, the second instalment arrives this Saturday (September 4, 10am to 3pm) along Greenfield Crescent, with almost double the stalls. Last time round I ploughed hard-earned Queen's paper into Pip's Hot Sauce (as I always do), Worcester-made Hussingtree gin and Kings Heath pie gods Rourke's. If any child you know has a birthday inbound take a look at Emma O'Brien's gloriously ugly textile monsters. Handmade and in desperate need of dental work, they are priced at far less than you think they're going to be, especially when you ask Emma how long they take-a to make-a. Accordion-led singalongs, places to eat and drink, dog-friendly and zero traffic make it a real gem of an event. Oh and Taartie donuts will make sure you never look at a Krispy Kreme ever again. More   

LIFE BEGINS AT 50


Pub quiz trivia: Video Killed the Radio Star was the first song to play on MTV and Chanel No.5 were the first to advertise on Channel 5. Less likely to come up but absolutely worth knowing is that First impressions was the first show to grace The REP, 50 years ago, a musical adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. Princess Margaret opened the theatre on October 20, 1971. Since that day the REP has become, absolutely, a jewel in Birmingham's cultural crown — the only producing theatre in the city, over the last 15 years it's produced more than 130 new plays, as well as presenting over 60 productions on its three stages every year. To mark five decades in their current venue (prior to that they were, of course, based were the Old Rep is now, opening with a production of Twelfth Night in February 1913) The REP have a fantastic programme for Autumn / Winter. Perhaps the biggest show to re-grace her boards is the homecoming of East Is East, returning to Brum for its own anniversary, turning 25. Directed by Iqbal Khan (see the main interview above) and since premiering on The REP’s stage in 1996, it's sold out three London runs, been adapted into a BAFTA Award-winning film and become a modern classic of comic-drama. Rediscover this joyous play where it all began (Sept 3 to 25). A new musical follows and invites guests to experience London's Swinging Sixties in a play featuring the music of Tom "think I better dance now" Jones, What's New Pussycat? (Oct 8 to Nov 14). Perhaps the pièce de résistance comes, though, when The REP’s Artistic Director Sean Foley directs his own hit, The Play What I Wrote, Nov 27 to Jan 1. Reviewers went gah-gah for this one when it was in the West End and a guest star will appear every night. More   
Venue: Pause @ Isherwood, 85-89 Woodlands Park Rd, B30 1HA; Instagram
Choice: A 'Hemingway' (£4) and a white chocolate blondie (£3.50)  
Chooser: Rory 


Keep your money because I'll tell you this for free — cake and coffee hot spot Pause, nuzzled nicely into florist par excellence, Isherwood in Bournville, is 2021's most charming launch. The creation of business partners Farah Chaudry and Rory McGhie, who have been running Pause as a pop-up while hunting for a permanent home, sits in a small bank of shops I didn't know existed on Woodlands Park Road, within walkable distance of Rowheath Pavilion. The workload is split simply; Rory's on coffee (having spent 15 years in hospitality and 9 of those on mugs of Joe at Urban, Tilt and Quarter Horse, to name a few) and self-taught, sweet-things miracle worker Farah is on cakes and bakes. "There's also an absurd amount of other things to running a business" Rory reminds me with exceptional sangfroid as he's hit by a sudden rush of customers — anyone would think 1pm was a bad time for me to show up out of the blue, notepad in hand, expecting an interview. Every fortnight Rory rotates coffee supplier, not only to keep customers interested but also to get a feel for what Bournvillions want, this is, after all, only day six since they opened. At the moment the coffee comes from Girls Who Grind, an all female specialty coffee roastery who source specifically and exclusively from women producers, seeking out those coffees that are creating positive change through the empowerment of women. Rory's not a woman, but their coffee is in safe hands as he is absolutely one of the city's best (and nicest) baristas. I went for a Hemingway which is a coffee you won't find on Google — Rory stumbled upon it in Tulum, Mexico, and was told with absolutely zero proof, that Ernest was a fan of it. A Cubano espresso is sweet whisked and introduced to 20z of milk and a cinnamon garnish. Rory told me it has a chewy quality, but he's talking baloney because it slipped down without a bite. Chewy or not, it was spellbindingly good. Now, my sweet tooth is about as sweet as a Broad Street bouncer at kick out time, but Farah's cakes walk the sugar tightrope with mercurial balance. Yes, there's that hit of sugar, but her baking — so good she ditched a career in the law to go full time — is smooth and controlled, with savoury notes throughout. Perfect composition, this is the sweet treat for those who wouldn't have ended up in Wonka's chocolate lake, the peanut butter blondie I ordered being a standout example. On paper it sounds so sugary you'll being seeing into the future inside four bites, but that's not the reality. This is morish. Almost dangerously so. A joy to enjoy, as is the entire venue. Throw those curtains wide, sang Elbow, one launch like this a year would see us right.

FLAPPERS & BAPPERS


Ace NIA-based burger joint Stackz are uprooting and moving in with iconic, back-from-the-dead canalside boozer and live music venue The Flapper, as part of a permanent kitchen takeover. Starting Friday September 10, the menu will be a mix of burgers, loaded fries and fried chicken (like the Korean BBQ number, pictured) as well as new items specific to the Flapper. It's hoped that live events will return to the pub's gig room by October. Burgers will be available on Deliveroo in due course.
The good people at Chung Ying had a few technical issues when we launched their 50% off food offer, throughout September. It's all fixed now so head here.  

There are still tickets available for this weekend's Moseley Folk Festival (Waterboys, Richard Hawley etc) from £96 and for music festival MADE at Sandwell Park on September 18 (The Streets headline) from £66 
Pat Butcher deviant and street art provocateur, Foka Wolf, brings unseen works and installations together at a one of a kind exhibition at The Old Crown, Digbeth, September 8 to 12. More 
Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ trolley is touring in October. I can't believe I'm telling you about half a trolley that's doing a national tour, but here we are. New Street Station, Oct 23 to 25.

Beckett's Farm sunflower field is now open for you to wander. It's completely unstaffed, so maybe a good place to lose the kids? Woah! Joke, joke, jeeez... 


"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, hide their feelings. But a cat does not."



Ernest Hemingway



 
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WORDS: Tom Cullen
PICS: 360 Allstars — Matt Loncar


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