Simon Jones: Time to start singing from the same hymnsheet
Jun 13 2008 By Simon Jones
If you look with open eyes at our modern metropolises you will see that there is an undeniable relationship between a city's entertainment culture and how desirable it is to live there. I know there are the occasional nosy-never-noisy neighbours who seem to move into the city centre and then spend the rest of their lives desperately trying to work out a hidden meaning to the term 'mixed use', but in general normal members of the public look more favourably on an area if there is a strong and exciting artistic undertow. Now this can be ballet, music, theatre, art or whatever floats your particular cultural vessel, but entertainment is unarguably the life blood to a vibrant city and any area that can boast an eclectic mix of quality artistic activity will find itself automatically short-listed for the estate agent good books.
Birmingham has always been a creative hub and one area we have especially excelled in is music. Not just producing it, but also promoting it and allowing new sounds and styles to be heard with open ears. From sound clashes on Soho Road and Blues parties in Balsall Heath, to punks in the Aston Triangle and dance music exploding in Digbeth in the early nineties, Birmingham has been on the ubiquitous cutting edge of music ever since the gramophone. The only problem is that if you talk to anyone outside of a B postcode the first musical icon they come back with when they think of Birmingham is Ozzy Osbourne. Now there is an element of kudos to this association but times have moved on a lot since The Prince of Darkness was stalking the land and it's the current culture of music we should be seeking national recognition for.
What does, and deservedly should, make our fair city more attractive to the eyes of the nation are some very independent, very astute and very well-organised music venues and promoters that Birmingham can proudly call its own, and with not one of them having to bite the head off a bat to make an impression. At The Custard Factory Spaces we have grown from a small bar servicing the creative industry's notorious drinking habits to a large full site venue that has been championing the most innovative new sounds in music. We brought acts like DJ Yoda, Layo & Bushwacka! and Mr Scruff to the city and have continued to push the line ups with acts like Public Enemy and the revered dubstep DJ and producer Benga. Then you have The Rainbow in Digbeth (just a stone's throw from us in Adderley Street) who have been developing their site over the past few years and are now so respected on the national tour circuit they're netting gigs from artists such as Mary Anne Hobbs, Daddy Freddy and The Prodigy. Adam Regan who co-owns and books for two of Birmingham's leading suburban late night ents venues, The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath and The Bulls Head in Moseley, has been getting the likes of Roy Ayres, Gilles Peterson and The Bees (thanks to DJ Guy Carless) to play very intimate, very special gigs for a very fortunate out-of-town crowd. Birmingham Jazz and Birmingham Conservatoire has spawned The Cobweb Collective who regularly bring the latest jazz and fusion to venues such as The Yardbird in Centenary Square (a very cool Jazz venue in itself and now that Ronnie Scott's is no longer something this city really needs to champion), The Cross in Moseley and the Corks Club in Bearwood. Whilst stand-alone promoters such as Capsule, who organise the Supersonic and Integra festivals which we hosted at The Custard Factory, and individuals such as Mark Reck, Richard Batsford and Anne Marie Pope, who are behind the Project X Presents promotions, have been bringing some of the most renowned international performers to innovative events in Birmingham. The wealth of independent musical creativity in this city is simply astounding, not just that but its getting bigger and better every year that passes.
I call you all to arms. Go out and spread the word that Birmingham is a city full, literally bubbling over, of exciting music both past and present. We have some incredible promoters in the region and we should be prouder than proud of what goes on within our city walls. So whenever you speak to someone who is ranting and raving about the uber cool warehouse party they went to in Salford or Shoreditch, be sure to mention that you are going out at the weekend to see Soweto Kinch play at a small pub in Digbeth, or you're off to enjoy a rare DJ set from Soul II Soul founder Jazzie B at a venue in the suburbs, or you're very excited about the Estelle gig you have been lucky enough to snag a ticket to. Failing that, run your fingers down the listings of any local paper, pull out a name and start boasting. You might not help the first-time buyers looking for the steal of the century from the Birmingham property markets but a bit of well deserved self promotion is something this city could use a little help with. You heard me Brummies, start showing off.
* Simon Jones is creative director for Custard Factory Spaces.