Back in the summer of 2020, I had a couple of park bench chats with Dave Rowan. I was recovering from a hastily-organised online festival, and he was sifting through a mountain of photographs taken from his studio at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The window overlooks Chamberlain Square, and these images were a blow-by-blow record of the demise of Central Library over the course of two years. Dave's idea was to create a publication of some sort and, as we spoke, I thought of Derek Fairbrother's work.
An industrial chemist and a keen photographer, he had undertaken a similar project; shooting the changing face of the city from the same spots over many weeks. In his case, though, the weeks added up to more than three decades of postwar redevelopment. I had first encountered the Fairbrother collection when the late Pete James, Head of Photography at Birmingham Libraries, had asked me to piece together a series of images into a timelapse sequence for the 2009 Birmingham Seen exhibition. The resulting one-minute film of Chamberlain Square is on our Vimeo, and still gets views every week:
Click the video above to be taken to Vimeo, where you can watch the timelapse. Alternatively, the photos below are just eight of the 24 shots the video features.
If you want to try and explain to someone the head spinning transformation that Birmingham went through in the 60s and 70s, just show them this video, or indeed, the photos below. Derek spent countless Sundays revisiting the same street corners, mapping the loss of Birmingham's Victorian streets and the arrival of new dual carriageways and tower blocks. Sometimes the framing shifts halfway through a sequence, as he moves the camera to accommodate a structure twice the size of the thing it's replacing.
Images by Derek Fairbrother, courtesy of Birmingham Library Services
I knew there were two boxes of this material stored in the library, but with Covid restrictions they would be off-limits for a while. In the meantime I dug through old emails to retrieve the number of Gaynor, Derek's wife. After he died in 1999 it was Gaynor who visited Pete James at the library to deposit these boxes. It turned out she was still living in the same house in Harborne — where Derek developed photos in the box room late into the night — and she was very happy to help.
She talked about their first encounter in the late 50s, through a church group that met at St Martin's in the Bull Ring. The courting took a bit of time, and eventually they had their first date, which ended with Derek screening some Super 8 footage of trains he had shot in Colorado. Gaynor soon realised that photography and film offered this intensely shy man a way of engaging with the world, and as they raised two sons, his thirty-year project formed a backdrop to their lives. Apart from the occasional talk or slideshow, very few people got to see the results during his lifetime; but it was clear from the papers he left behind that Derek knew the value of what he had created.
Back at the park bench, the book was starting to take shape. Dave had made a selection to form his own 'timelapse' picking up from where Derek had left off, albeit from a different angle. Whereas Derek had done all his shooting on Sundays, Dave was squeezing it into his lunch-break, accumulating more than 12,000 images over the course of two years. The result is a forensic record of the work it takes to demolish a massive concrete building and, for lovers of John Madin's Central Library, it may make for difficult viewing.
Images by David Rowan, courtesy of David Rowan
Combined together, the two sequences take us on a flipbook journey through sixty years of nonstop and typically Brummie redevelopment. Sandwiched between them, I've written some text reflecting on this endlessly contested patch of land and the ways in which Birmingham has presented itself here over the years. As we enter a summer where the city's Commonwealth connections will take centre stage, it's an ideal spot to think about our relationship with history — particularly with empire — and how it continues to shape us.
Despite ample opportunity in 2020 and 2021, I have failed to learn banjo and my Bulgarian is still terrible, but thanks to Dave's persistence I am at least emerging with one completed lockdown project. This Saturday, almost exactly two years after we cancelled our fourteenth festival, we'll be gathering in the Jewellery Quarter to toast the arrival of this lovely and unexpected book.
The book launch for 'Paradise 1974-2016' is this Saturday, March 12, at Minima. It's a free event but you need to register and spaces are filling extremely fast. The book itself costs £22.99 and can be purchased from the Flatpack online shop.
SUNDAY, LOVELY SUNDAY
We don't want to do a deep, psychological dive into Fredkin's paradox, but the toss of a coin Sunday decision between a good old fashioned market and a street food feast can tear holes in perfectly good relationships. Thinking there might be something in this, Hockley Social Club (HSC) have launched Market Sundays, marrying two of God's day's biggest hitters under one roof. And that roof is as important as anything else there present. Hockley Social Club is the north Brum home to Digbeth Dining Club. Confused? You don't need to be. Digbeth Dining Club, probably the planet's best street food organisers, outgrew their Digbeth home, having almost single-handedly put the Brum suburb on the food map. Having shown how possible it is to convert a venue from a down and out warehouse into the city's most in-demand locale, they've done the exact same thing up in Hockley, only much, much better. This is street food for people who don't want to have to eat it hunched over a bin piled high with plastic pint cups. A beautifully renovated warehouse with more seating than your average Championship football ground, it's warm, dry, naturally lit and full with chilled music and many a smile. Current resident street food traders include Buddha Belly, Andy Low N Slow and Beef on the Block, and we'll get on to them shortly. But the latest twist is handing over almost 50% of their knockout venue to market traders, Sundays 11am to 4pm (with hot food going out until 7pm). Traders include Eat Vietnam's iconic clothing arm, Pip's Hot Sauce, Crafty Brum, curio superstars Ridding & Wynn, luxy gifting homewares outfit Minima and loads (LOADS) more. In fact, HSC host up to 15 of the city's most creative and, frankly, lovely independent stall traders, all of whom (I know because I asked them) love this new, indoor, vibey get-together. I left arms laden with sauces, muffins, gift cards and whatnot, and, at the risk of sounding like Alan Partridge, there's ample free parking, which makes the whole thing that little bit easier. On the grub front it's hard to look past Andy Low N Slow's barbecued Sunday roast (below), but Beef on the Block's £12 Aubrey Allen sirloin with chimichurri and fries is absolutely the city's best value quality steak, and their T-bone sharer is a real smile-maker. I even grabbed a beef massaman from Buddha Belly to reheat at home that evening. Ten out of ten, would repeat. Will repeat. More
BOURN TO RUN
Our own, non-scientific study shows a beer after a run is as effective as a stretch and an ibuprofen. Helpful, then that the new Run of a Kind (ROAK) tour will conclude in a brewery. Even more appealing, and smashing the diet myth that you should work off your treats, your second reward is Cadbury’s chocolate. Endorphins for days. Yep, their new, 7k guided running tour is set in Bournville, home of a rich chocolate history and home to… well, no breweries, as you’ll find out. So it’s a hobble over to Stirchley for the post-run social at Birmingham Brewing Company. Previous ROAK runs have made the pavement pounding enlightening and – dare we say it – enjoyable, and this one will be the tastiest yet, for rewards and scandal. Two optional add-ons to really milk that post-run high are a bespoke can of Brum Brewery’s ‘Post-Run Brummie’ to enjoy straight after, and, if you’re a merch lover, grab a RUN BHX purple and white t-shirt. If you’re comfortable running a leisurely 2k non-stop, this will suit you. Run about Bournville stopping along the way to learn about legal battles over the colour purple, fights with Mars and feeding the Queen. And the legendary gorilla will get a mention, so that’s your earworm sorted for the run. Tickets are £19, which includes your post-run Cadburys. Book on for an Easter treat on April 15 and 17 or you can book privately at a time, date and pace of your choice.
Glastonbury just proved that when a festival finally makes a comeback, it’s a corker – and also that you should never delay on buying tickets. Speaking of which, Birmingham Wine Weekend is popping corks all over the shop on its return and tickets are now on sale. Making up for lost time (aren’t we all?), this year’s weekend has doubled in size: it’s now a full week and the venues stretch from Digbeth to Edgbaston. More venues, more days, more wine. Copious amounts. Welcome to Brum’s bacchanal. Get your £10 e-ticket now, which gives you access to their new app: your digital passport to all the exclusive offers sloshing about for the week. Show it and access each venue’s exclusive offers: a specially selected wine for £5 a glass, wine and canapé pairing for £7 – take a pintxos tour of Brum! – or even tasting flights. The app also acts as your handheld sommelier, with digital tasting notes and a heads up of what wines can be found, where. Nearly 30 hand-picked venues feature this year; ample excuse to tour the city and become more acquainted with the good stuff. On top of the tenner’s access you can book additional events, workshops and tastings during the week. Stick your nose in a glass or two at vino classes, marvel at clever food pairings, or bag the specially curated dining options only available that week, from Gaucho to Edgbaston’s Chapter. Some curious options include Wine Freedom’s orange wine pairing event for your take-aways, elevating your home dining standards, while newcomers, Shibuya Underground, introduce you to sake. The first venue opens on Monday, April 4 and the wine appreciation continues right through until the last venues close on Sunday, April 10. Start planning your hangovers.
IN AN UNASSUMING CORNER...
...of the MAC sits a modest exhibition with almighty emotional momentum. Nevertheless, We Persisted is inspired by and features cards, letters and messages of support sent to Anderton Park School, Sparkhill from across the globe during the 2019 protests around LGBTQ+ inclusive teaching at the primary school. You'll remember it when it hit the national news and stayed there for months. It showcases the gentle, eloquent force of the handwritten note as a powerful form of activism — the simple gesture of writing to someone and telling them they're making a positive difference will, at times, choke you up. To coincide with LGBT+ History Month, the exhibition is set against a 50-year backdrop of change and challenge in both legislation and social attitudes towards the place of LGBTQ+ representation within the way young people are educated. Wall after wall, inch after inch, letters of support to headteacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson and her team, champion her decision to teach LGBT-inclusive content to her pupils. A decision that also gave rise to threats. Her main message was simply that some children’s parents may be the same sex. The battle that ensued transcended Birmingham and, as the nation looked on, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson and the school stood their ground. Nevertheless We Persisted (on until April 3) is one of a number of MAC exhibitions currently showing and well worthy of your time, with Maryam Wahid’s first major photographic exhibition in her home city of Birmingham on until April 18. Zaibunnisa, meaning ‘the beauty of women’ refers to Wahid’s mother’s birth name prior to emigrating from Pakistan to the UK in 1982 for an arranged marriage. The photographs tell the story of Wahid and her mother’s journey to Lahore in 2019; Wahid’s first-ever trip to Pakistan and her mother’s first visit in twenty years. Entrance is free
The team behind the Great Western Arcade's Pineapple Club are teaming up with Arch 13 for a cheese and sake evening at their new below ground digs, Shibuya Underground. The combination nobody asked for, but everyone wants. More —
Hong Kong popper-uppers, Blow Water, will be popping and upping at The Juke, Kings Heath, for four days starting today. Expect Shanghainese five spice soy steak. Meanwhile, vegan dish slingers, Nottybites, have started a residency at the Queens Arms, JQ, and here's 25% off between now and Sunday. —
St Patrick's Day is back with a March 11 launch, followed by the main events happening on March 13. Celebrations continue on March 17 with Shamrock Tenors taking over Symphony Hall and the UK's biggest St Patrick's Day event, Paddy's Fest, at that most Irish of venues... Bierkeller? Details —
A life-sized knock-off of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is heading to an undisclosed Birmingham location, this April. £15.20 —
Stormtroopers, Steampunk and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man are NEC-bound, courtesy of geekfest MegaCon Live. From £13.50 —
Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival has announced this year's line-up. Tickets on sale 10am tomorrow, Friday March 11, here. —
Khomedy for Ukraine is at the Hare & Hounds, March 20. Funny people doing good things about the gravest of situations. £6.70 —
20% of this email's advertising revenue has been donated to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. Thanks for reading it and thanks to those who advertise in it. 🇺🇦
WORDS: Tom Cullen
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