Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Artsfest @ all over the place in Birmingham, 10th – 12th September 2010
Billed as the UK’s biggest free arts festival (and who am I to argue) this year once again saw a frankly bonkers array of stuff on offer at venues across the City. As in 2009, 2008, 2007 (you get the idea) the programme only came out a few days before the event was due to start. This is, to be blunt, crap. If you want to attract visitors to the City surely people need more than 72 hours notice of what the hell’s going on? Shouldn’t a few printed programmes have been sent out to tourist centres in London, Manchester, Liverpool etc a month or two ago? Yes. They should. It really ain’t good enough.
Anyway, thanks to a variety of circumstances (including the piss poor timing of the programme’s publication), I only caught a handful of the attractions and, predictably, most of them were music.
On Friday evening Goodnight Lenin (pictured above in all their glory)continued their march to stardom with another fine set of folky, harmony rich tunes. I’ve written about them an embarrassing number of times now so if I’ve not yet inspired you to go and see them I’m either crap or you have no ears. Next up was the 7 headed ska machine Tempting Rosie. The Midlands is, of course, one of the spiritual homes of ska. Responsible for The Specials, The Beat, Bad Manners and The Selecter back in the 70’s we’re still producing some fine bands nowadays and Tempting Rosie are right up there. Still incredibly young they’ve got a superb brass section, a suitcase full of classic sounding ska tunes and enough energy to revive Lazarus (or at the very least a slightly damp Birmingham crowd).
The only thing of note that I really saw on Saturday was a snatch (stop it now) of Birmingham Royal Ballet. I have little or no real experience of ballet and with prices for some of the bigger performances regularly topping a wallet busting (for someone of a modest income at least) amount it’s likely that these free shows will remain all I get to see of it. I have to say though that, for one of the first times in my life, I actually ‘got’ the appeal of it all. It helped watching ‘Printer Jam’ - more of an experimental piece I guess using the sounds made by a jammed up printer to inform the movement of the dancers. It’s more accessible to a funky young thing like me (yep, laugh all you want, you’ll be 150 one day) than some of the traditional dances, but even these managed to communicate the grace, beauty and strength that ballet fanatics are constantly banging on about. A ballet good show all round.
Sunday was the most productive day in terms of my Artsfest experience this year, with fine sets from The Heels (ska meets latino jazz...niiice) and The Arcadian Kicks (classy new wave girl pop) but the undisputed highlight of the weekend was The Black and Reds. I’ve seen this pair before and remember being blown away by their primeval brand of classic rock n’roll. Tonight, in the sweaty bowels of The Flapper, was every bit as memorable. They’re basically a guy who plays drums (standing up mind you) and sings, together with a guy who plays guitar and provides backing vocals. That’s it. It’s simple, stripped back 100% pure rock n’roll. The good stuff. What lifts it into a different league is the quality of the playing. Both of them are masters of their respective instruments but the drummer is, to be frank, astonishing. There are only three drums in his kit, together with a couple of nibbled cymbals. But, like Sea Sick Steve’s legendary three string guitar, the sound he beats out of it defies belief (the live vid here from a previous show gives you some idea).
I’ve not seen a soundcheck receive applause before but this guy got it. I’ve seen some bands in my time but I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a better rock n’roll two piece anywhere in the world right now. It may have only lasted half an hour or so but this is a strong contender for gig of the year. Sell your soul to see this band right now. The odd eternity in a fiery pit of hell will be more than worth it.
I ended the night with a first. Nope, I’ve not copped off with a Lady Boy or stuck my genitals in a food blender. Tonight was the first time I’d ever seen The Twang. Yes, I know. How can I live in Birmingham and not have seen The Twang eh? Anyway, they’re not at all bad. Better than I expected in fact, especially given some of the snide comments made about them by certain elements of the music press (yeah I’m looking at you NME). Ostensibly baggy revivalists they’d have gone down a storm in the early 90’s with the likes of The Happy Mondays and The Farm. Pick of the set was a slightly latino tinged track called Barney Rubble (off their second album Jewellery Quarter), and past singles Two Lovers and Either Way (shades of It’s On by Flowered Up in there methinks).
So, that was my somewhat limited experience of Artsfest 2010. Perhaps if the powers that be manage to get their programme out in time I’ll get my shit sorted out too. How about it eh?