In what many suggested was, in a busy field, I Choose Birmingham's laziest moment, I interviewed my brother, last year, in the run up to the inaugural season of The Hundred — cricket's newest and fastest paced format. Turns out it was an editorial call so astute even Spider-Man newspaper misery, J. Jonah Jameson, would have doffed his cap, given it caught the eye of the big wigs at the Birmingham Phoenix and they invited my bro to interview two top players.
Now, I'm not saying he's making a move to force me out of my own company but quicker than you can say 'hostile takeover' he was on a canal barge in Brindleyplace chatting to South African leg spinner (and the man behind this legendary hat-trick) Imran Tahir and Wolverhampton all rounder, Georgia Elwiss, as I frantically scribbled down notes for him.
And if there just so happens to be a very recent sports-shaped void in your life, then get it filled with The Hundred. It's as easy to fall in love with as a giant, mechanical bull... but just as susceptible to rain.
You’ve both returned to The Hundred for a second year and you’ve both returned to Birmingham Phoenix. You must like it here? Imran: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great competition and it’s still something that’s very new. It’s good for kids, it’s good for families and the level of support from the people of Birmingham last year made it an easy decision. As a player it’s so important to me to inspire kids — we did that — and we’re focussed on doing it again. Georgia: For the women’s game I don’t think we realised how big it was going to be, but then the crowds came. For us The Hundred has provided serious exposure. Last year, because of COVID and bubbles, we didn’t get much interaction with the men’s team but this year will be wanting some training sessions together so we can pick up some tips and tricks — grab ideas from the guys who have played the game around the world. It’s a real opportunity. Suffice to say we want to inspire as many young women and girls as possible, but equally I have three nephews walking around with Phoenix shirts on and 'Elwiss’ on the back. There are kids who want to be [Phoenix women’s bowler] Abtaha Maqsood just as much as they want to be Imran Tahir, and that’s the pure beauty of this version of the game. Kids see the women’s and the men’s teams on the same level, and they’re equally inspired by both.
Last year was really good. The women’s team got to the Eliminator and the men got to the final. And for Birmingham that was great… for last year. This year, though, the city is almost a different place given the last fortnight. So you’ll both be winning it this year to reflect that, right?
Georgia: The Games have been extraordinary. I feel like every Brummie was a volunteer given how many uniforms I saw day-to-day. And when you bear in mind that the build up for it was all through COVID it’s even more astounding how well they pulled it off. Being from Wolverhampton I felt that vibe and I felt that pride, and we go quickly into The Hundred now, and the trick is to capture those people that have been to the Games and harness their energy into more live sport. Imran: And you can have the best squad in the world but you’re not guaranteed the win. All my life I’ve looked to give 100% and that won’t change this year, and my teammates will do the same. But we do feel that expectation and I’m sure The Games will add to it. We need to be true to our training and hopefully deliver on the pressure. But, honestly, we want to win people’s hearts more than we want to win the game of cricket. Hopefully... we can do both.
And it was a Games that had more women’s medals than men’s — gold in the hockey and countless other successes. On top of the Lionesses, it’s a hell of a time for women’s sport. Georgia: We’re on a roll, aren’t we? And as females in sport we absolutely feel the need to keep that ball rolling. Keep that momentum. It’s like Immy said, we want to win the hearts of people and we want to do it the right way. Playing in the right spirit and making the fans proud. We need to jump on the bandwagon and do our bit to keep it propelling forward.
It’s quite a short competition, which adds to the excitement. But is there enough time to generate camaraderie?
Imran: When you travel around the world playing the sport you get better and better at being able to gel in short periods of time. So yeah, it’s doable. The key to it is understanding that all the players come from different parts of the world and you need to try and understand their culture. If you respect each other — and that should come easily — you can gel with each other. And that goes across the two teams. We’ve sat and had drinks with the women’s teams and that’s not something I’ve witnessed elsewhere in the world before the Birmingham Phoenix — and it’s absolutely great.
We’ve got to ask about the kit. I mean, the Manchester Originals look like they’re going to a funeral… Georgia: Ours is the best kit, isn’t it? By miles.
100% Georgia: I mean black’s slimming but our kit represents the vibrancy of The Hundred. I wouldn’t change it.
And it looks particularly good, Imran, when you nail a hat-trick and go on a sprinting celebration [above]. I thought you were just going keep going, into Cannon Hill Park and down the Pershore Road… Imran: I’ve got a hat-trick for South Africa and a hat-trick in the PSL [Pakistan Super League], but this was the best moment of my career. On my third ball, after I had bowled it, I could see [the batter] going forward and I saw the gap it was heading for. Only I could see where it was going, and I knew before everyone it was a wicket. And that was that, I was off, running!
It’s a good job that was the last wicket because you must have been shattered after that celebration?
Imran: [Laughing] That’s true. And I gave everything on that last ball and, you know, it’s funny because I wasn’t feeling well at that point either and nobody really knew. But all that vanished — tiredness, illness, gone! In front of a home crowd it was just… well… I can’t put it any other way. The best moment of my career.
Birmingham Phoenix continue their season with games at Edgbaston on Aug 19 (versus Northern Superchargers) and Aug 28 (versus Manchester Originals). Expect DJs and live music thanks to The Hundred's BBC Introducing partnership. Tickets
A FLYING VISIT
I don't want to get all techy on you — like Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park — but email doesn't support video so it's at times like this I just want to ugly-sob into my keyboard. But, in the words of an out-going Prime Minister, "thems the breaks", and the best I can do is point you in this direction and implore you to take a look at the jaw-dropping drone footage shot in Digbeth's Hennessey's bar.
Hennessey's, for those who have been as daft as me and never been, might for many be Birmingham's best kept secret, as the footage — incredibly shot in one take — shows.
For starters it's absolutely bloody massive — Birmingham's biggest independent family owned bar, in fact. It fits, comfortably, 1000 inside, so shoulder-to-shoulder sweat-fests won't be found here, no sir, and they've got queue reduction down to a fine art. That 1000 capacity doesn't take into account the 350 who can fit comfortably into their outdoor beer garden and roof terrace, wiping the floor with anything more central.
Speaking of location — admit it, Brummies are a notoriously tricky bunch when it comes to convincing them to walk a short distance, but Hennessey's is literally around the corner from the Original Patty Men and I can pretty much guarantee you're more than happy to walk there.
It's also unrivalled when it comes to big sport viewing. The outdoor area, which is about as close to weatherproof as you can get thanks to being 50% covered and armed with both heaters (not necessary right now) and fans (very) — has a colossal 12ft wide TV screen — presumably, but not officially, the biggest in the city. Perhaps there's bigger on (whisper it) Broad Street. Indoors there's 20 screens too, so wherever you're dragging yourself for top flight football or fight night, Hennessey's is almost definitely a more comfortable option. And thanks to five SKY boxes they either will have what you want to watch on, or it can easily go on.
You can probably tell I quite like it and feel like a bit of a twazzock for having never been before last month. It seems like they've thought of everything: they have a slushy machine for the love of god and 2-4-1 food options on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Anyway, it's my top tip for the remainder of summer. Poke your head in but, like the chef in the footage, try not to have it taken clean off by a drone. More
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (VERNEY)
Because I'm the sort of dad who'll do anything to avoid Kings Heath soft play hell-maze, Hickory Dickory's, I took my two to Compton Verney, just a 35-minute drive away, where they're hosting their absolutely bonza Summer of Colour programme. Set in over 120 acres of Grade II listed parkland, the historic former country house is a bona fide beaut and, until the end of March 2023, is the home to Morag Myerscough’s The Village (above). The techni-coloured, kid-friendly mini town is designed to disrupt and draw attention to the landscape, in which the original medieval village of Compton Murdak once stood. Six year olds, nine year olds and 42 year olds alike were drawn to it — though not all mastered navigating it with ease.
Elsewhere, Luke Jerram’s new interactive installation, Crossings, (above and on until Sept 4) invites groups of up to four people to take a brightly decorated rowing boat out onto Compton Verney’s iconic lake and listen to some incredible stories from around the world. As the water laps around you and the oars dip into the water, be transported into the lives and experiences of others from different parts of the world as you take a 30-minute audio journey to another life. It's got Cannon Hill Park's swan lake beat, all ends up.
If you're looking for something a bit more indoorsy, you big coward, checkout the incredible retrospective exhibition Colour Is (until 2 October). This is the first large-scale survey exhibition of artist David Batchelor’s work, which spans three decades throughout which he has been preoccupied and fascinated by colour. His work reflects both a delight in the hues of the urban environment, and an inquiry into how we respond to this rapidly changing technological world. With great difficulty, if you're anything like me.
On top of all that they have playgrounds, sandpits, building blocks, 'Get Mucky, Get Making' sessions (every Thursday through the school hols), wooden structure building tomfoolery with the Woodland Tribe lot (until Aug 14), 3D artwork sessions and loads more. An absolutely spanking day out and, mercifully, not a slobber drizzled ball pit in sight. Check Compton Verney's website for dates, times and admission prices. Some events need to be booked in advance.
"THIS IS OUR GIFT TO THE CITY"
Heading for Birmingham Hippodrome and part of the ongoing Birmingham 2022 Festival is Mohammed Ali’s Waswasa — named after the Arabic word to describe distractions from prayer. Award-winning street artist – and founder of Soul City Arts – Mohammed and his team want to demystify the familiar, yet oft-misunderstood, tradition of Islamic prayer through an immersive exploration of the act.
First inspired by the realisation of worlds colliding as patrons to his Dad’s restaurant stood agape at prayer being performed in the kitchen, Ali was driven to explore and dissect our differences and reveal the aspects of faith often hidden by his father’s generation as early immigrants. The physical act of prayer is a quiet, contemplative and private event in religious spaces, but can be witnessed spilling over into the everyday: in acts of despair, triumph, or gratitude. So is this personal faith the same as what we all strive for in a higher state of focus? With or without faith, however different, we’re probably more alike than we think, and Waswasa is here to help us find out.
Ali says: “Whilst the show is generally uplifting, we wanted to explore some of the darker aspects too; how many may struggle with faith and focus. In fact, Waswasa relates to people of no faith as we all struggle with achieving that higher state of focus, with things like social media and technology dominating our lives.“
The show, created in a warehouse in Sparkbrook, Mohammed describes Waswasa as ‘Muslim Prayer meets a Bladerunner environment’. This show promises to be a stunner, with Islamic prayer captured in a new, insightful and – something Ali looks for to build understanding – challenging way. The audience is invited to walk through a combination of live performance, art installation and projected film zones, including a prayer tunnel graffitied by the people of Brum. At just £15 this is an ace opportunity to explore an aspect of religion so deeply and innovatively.
Having travelled the world with his murals, performances and installations from New York to Bangladesh, Mohamed now brings his biggest production to-date to his home city. “This show is my most ambitious yet," he says. "It really is the big one for me, as it’s such a heavy theme. It’s one I feel most passionate about. Having just been at the closing ceremony, and feeling kind high on it, I hope Waswasa will be both a moment of closure for this incredible city, but also a beginning. A crucial shift-change — we've pulled out all the stops. This is a gift to Birmingham.” The immersive theatrical experience will run at the Hippodrome from 25 August to 3 September, with tickets on sale now.
BIT OF BULLY?
A professional illustrator and proud Brummie has released three incredible sketches of The Bull With No Name and they're yours for £45, total.
"I thought it would be really nice to capture parts of the opening ceremony in my sketchbook," said The Urban Giant (real name Marc Turley). "The Mechanical Bull was an instant hit as a subject to draw. The movement, the materiality, the patina, the design and overall scale of the Bull was just so mesmerising to watch."
So he got to work, initially starting with two quick hand sketches using pencils and inks drawn on to A5 Moleskine sketch paper. The first two sketches were preparatory work to support the final illustration. His first pencil to paper was this cracker which shows the head on view of the Bull entering the stadium, while the second (above) features the view of the choreographer halting the bull, capturing the scale of the beast.
"Both images were really strong subject material and enabled me to start thinking about a final photo realistic hand-drawn piece." The main technical illustration (above) was 18 hour’s of work and was drawn A4 size on an old style drawing board.
"I used an etched bleed proof paper and a mixture of pencil, ink, watercolour, markers, acrylic and airbrush. Having initially been an architect, I use technical hand drawing techniques in my work and include as much detail and precision to ensure accuracy and photorealism. I was originally going to keep them in my sketchbook but it was my wife’s idea to sell them as prints as they capture so much about the games and Birmingham."
Marc had 250 prints of the three done and are they're selling like bonkers. To buy the three prints (£45) contact Marc on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. The original hand-drawn works are also for sale (price on request).
MORE VIBES PLEASE
Working quietly in the background of all this sudden realisation that Birmingham is, in fact, outstanding, is Moseley Folk and Arts Festival, bringing in cracking music, arts and culture – homegrown or flown in – year on year.
With just 21 days to go, the festival has unveiled its full Family and Arts schedules. Teaming up with Birmingham Comedy Festival to bring a strong comedy element this year, there’ll be Ivo Graham, hot off the back of Edinburgh, musical comedy duo, Flo & Joan, plus rising local comic, Lindsey Santoro. Punk Poet, John Cooper Clarke and Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage were already big names to feature, but Brum historian and local legend, Carl Chinn, is also now eclipsing them, recalling the infamous real life Peaky Blinders, and his own personal connection to the city's criminals. Oh the intrigue.
The family programme includes a visit from Nick Cope, CBeebies hit music man, plus folk of the past via the Black Country Living Museum. There’ll also be the usual storytelling, music workshops, pirates, face painting, and Sunday's now traditional, family-friendly Hay Down Ceilidh.
Sadly, this is the first Moseley Folk without the beloved Janice Long compering the event but, to ensure her legacy as a huge advocate of developing artists, and unrivalled presence on the stage, newly launched Hello You! The Janice Long Bursary will support new and emerging artists. The award winner will be the opener on Moseley Folk’s Second Stage in 2022 and a headline slot in 2023, so you might catch a star in their ascendance. Getting bang for your buck, adult day tickets are £55 (£135 for the full three days) and under 12s go free, with discounted tickets for under 16s. Go on and drag out those good vibes into September.
Time Travel Tram, not the sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine but a free 360° mobile phone experience that invites people to discover the people and places that moulded Brum and the Black Country into the vibrant, industrious and basically badass place it is today. Available on the West Midlands Metro until October. —
Birmingham Restaurant Festival starts in ten days. Rally the troops. Details —
Birmingham Heritage Week returns for September 2022 with more than 150 walks, talks and tours. They're on sale now with the hottest ones likely to go fast. Masonic Hall, anyone? More —
There's a sausage dog pup-up in Revolucion De Cuba (Sept 18), which is odd because, by all accounts, dachshunds absolutely did not do their bit when it came to the Cuban Revolution —
The brillo Mockingbird Cinema in that Custard Place are hosting their Free Late Night Mystery Cult Movie Club, every Friday, plus they have a Grease sing-a-long on Aug 27, all set to go following the passing of Olivia Newton-John. —
Chef Ji of Tierra Tacos is doing a two month residency at Jewellery Quarter neighbours 1000 Trades. Browse the Trades Facebook page for info. —
There will be no issue of ICB next week and I don't have to explain myself to you.
YOU'RE NOT MY REAL DAD!
WORDS: Claire Hawkins, Matt Cullen, 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.