Birmingham Mail

On 10th June I undertook a weeks work experience at the Birmingham Mail, working in the features department. I was later invited back and on 23rd September I returned for another week, the highlight of which was the publication of my first double page spread, on student life in Birmingham.

I now write freelance live reviews and feature articles.

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Review: Shaangan Electro at Library of Birmingham (28/10/13)

South African group Shangaan Electro brightened the dismal skies outside the Library of Birmingham on Saturday with their infectious high-speed music and dance act.

Set in the open air amphitheatre and part of the Bring To Light event – a weekend celebrating experimental music and performance – the five performers, all elaborately dressed in feathers and masks, brought smiles to all who watched the dazzling display of contemporary African dance music as they sang and danced their way through an impressive show.

A fast-paced style incorporating complex rhythms and many layers of percussion, more at home on the streets of Soweto than Birmingham, was backed by charismatic producer Nozinja’s lively rapport with the audience.

“Shangaan Electro is all about speed. We’re going to reach 189 beats per minute,” he cried, before launching into another speedy number.

Members of the public who attended a dancing workshop with the group the day before were invited on stage to join them for a particularly fast number and this sparked the biggest cheers from the public, most of whom were watching from above, outside the library.

The typical English rain didn’t prevent the traditional Shangaan rhythmic style from bringing the flavour of African culture to the city.

The group, who focus more on keyboards and vocal samples than the traditional guitar, brought smiles to all who were lucky enough to witness this enthusiastic display of modern dance music.

Great entertainment and a perfect way to light up a rainy Saturday.

Original article available to view here

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Review: Public Image Limited at O2 Academy (22/10/13)

“There may only be one Johnny Rotten, but he’s a big fella. I need to stay off the butter,” cried singer John Lydon as Public Image Ltd brought their brand of abrasive rock to Birmingham.

The Sex Pistols front man may have become famous more recently as the face of a series of butter adverts but judging by the amount of spiked mohicans and leather jackets packed into the venue, it was obvious the loyal punks haven’t forgotten who their hero is.

Support came from Coventry ska band The Selecter, whose 2 Tone performance, fronted by Pauline Black and the dominating figure of Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson in front of an enthusiastic rhythm and saxophone section, provided the perfect set up for what was an intense evening heavily revolving around the wry perspective and contorted facial expressions of Lydon.

“And the crowd went mild,” rasped Lydon as he continued to taunt the crowd throughout, eager to draw what responses he could from an audience which was unfairly thin on the ground.

This didn’t prevent Lydon delivering a typically impassioned performance and classic post-punk singles such as Death Disco and Public Image provoked a more intense response than the more dense earlier brooding songs.

It may be more than 30 years since they released their debut, but Lydon’s powerful voice still packed a punch and showed no sign of age as his declarations of “all politicians are scum” seem just as mysterious and darkly relevant now as they did back then.

Original article available to view here

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Deaf Havana play the Institute in Birmingham (18/10/13)

They have had limited radio play, little media coverage and a top 10 album.

It shouldn’t have happened and yet Deaf Havana have become one of this year’s most unexpected success stories.

“I was surprised. You know what it’s like, we’re from this place where nothing happens, nothing goes on and yet we’ve managed to get somewhere,” explains singer James Veck-Gilodi.

The 23-year-old is proud of his band’s achievements despite a lack of support from traditional means.

“We definitely haven’t been backed by the media. I’d prefer more radio play, but it seems to not make that much difference. Achieving a top ten album is a middle finger to those cool bands that are hyped to be the next big thing, those bands that then turn out to be nothing.”

Results speak for themselves. The band’s new album, Old Souls, entered the UK Album Chart at number nine and at one point was behind only Arctic Monkeys, one of the biggest selling albums of the year.

“We’re pretty much underdogs,” says James. “It’s embarrassing how little coverage we’ve had, we’re not seen to be cool.”

It doesn’t seem to bother them though, he believes there are more important avenues to follow.

“YouTube and iTunes are the way forward,” he suggests. “The most important thing though is being good. You’ve just got to be good.”

James is thankful for their fans, many of whom have been following the rock band since their early hardcore days when they formed while studying at college in King’s Lynn in 2005.

“Our fans are loyal, they stick with us. They’ve been with us for a long time,” says James. Maybe the reason they’ve been on the radio less frequently lies with James’ choice of instrumentation?

“Perhaps it’s because we’re not thrashing guitars around. I’m finding our new direction more interesting, I started playing guitar quite young so it’s not as if I’m bored of guitar, but I just fancied playing something different.”

* Deaf Havana play The Institute, Birmingham, tomorrow. Tickets: £15.50. For more information visit: www.deafhavanaofficial.com

Original article available to view here

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Take a fresher look at Birmingham (4/10/13)

Congratulations. You are one of the 65,000 students that has made the excellent decision to spend the most exciting time of your life in Birmingham.

In between skipping lectures, bingeing on Netflix, and confidently lying about how you’ve definitely read all the books you’re supposed to, occasionally you may wish to emerge from your student shack and venture, hungover and squinting through the mysterious phenomenon that is daylight, into the unknown.

Fear not, young explorer, you needn’t feel anxious about the journey that awaits you, for it is filled with limitless opportunities and potential for culture, discovery and alcohol.

With everything from music and comedy to pubs and clubs, here’s my guide to the best ways to spend your precious moments of student life. Some are even free!

Music Venues

1) Hare and Hounds, High Street, Kings Heath.

This Grade II-listed building in Kings Heath was the venue for Birmingham legends UB40’s first ever show so pop along to a gig here and catch the next big thing before everyone else! (Bands that have played/are playing: Drenge, Cloud Control, Summer Camp)

2) Institute, Digbeth.

Found in the heart of Birmingham’s alternative scene, the Institute (above) has three rooms, with a capacity ranging from 300 to 1,500. A great venue with many established acts of every genre. (Miles Kane, James Blake, Johnny Marr, Laura Mvula)

3) Symphony Hall, Broad Street.

A stunning building and seating more than 2,000, the Symphony Hall is home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. But, if the thought of classical music terrifies you, it also plays host to many contemporary comedians and musicians, from Laura Marling and Billy Bragg to Stewart Lee and Bill Bailey

4) Town Hall, Victoria Square.

The Town Hall dominates the city centre with its strong neo-classical design and has put on an large selection of acts, including local heroes Swim Deep and Slade.

5) Glee Club, The Arcadian, Hurst Street.

This multi-award winning venue is most famous for its comedy club, but is also an intimate setting for a unique live music experience. (Edwyn Collins, Maximo Park, Ghostpoet) 

Free Things To Do

1) Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square.

Recently opened and officially the largest library in Europe, make sure you visit the Shakespeare Memorial Room and visit the outside area for the perfect view of the city.

2) Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square.

Famous for its Pre-Raphaelite paintings, see art and objects spanning seven centuries. From Ancient Egypt to the Staffordshire Hoard, there are exhibitions on all year round.

3) Frankfurt Christmas Market, Victoria Square and New Street.

The largest outdoor Christmas Market in the country and the centrepiece of the city’s Christmas celebrations, with around 200 stalls from craft fairs to authentic German cuisine, it’s worth an evening out at.

4) BBC Public Space, Mailbox.

Release your inner George Alagiah and test your skills as a TV presenter whilst you record yourself presenting a news item or weather report in the BBC centre in The Mailbox.

5) Custard Factory, Digbeth.

Wander around the old home of Bird’s custard and while you might not have enough money to buy any of the clothes in the vintage shops, its worth a look for when your next loan comes in.

Pubs 

1) Victoria, John Bright Street.

A trendy theatre pub not far from the city centre, which provides a range of nights and has an excellent drinks menu, with two-for-one cocktails on Sundays.

2) Bristol Pear, Bristol Road, Selly Oak.

The trusty local of the residents of Selly Oak, expect to find this packed with students all taking advantage of the cheap drinks and good music. Complete with a function room and projector for football matches, make sure you visit on Tuesdays for the special ‘Quids’ drinks offer.

3) Old Crown, Digbeth.

Established in 1368, drink like kings in the oldest pub in Birmingham and the site of bitter skirmishes during the Civil War.

4) Bull’s Head, St Mary’s Row, Moseley

The home of J. R. R. Tolkien, Moseley has a large variety of pubs and restaurants and has a sociable reputation. The Bull’s Head is one of the more popular pubs with live music, club nights and open mic nights regularly occurring.

5) Briar Rose, Bennett’s Hill, city centre.

A large Wetherspoon pub with a wide range of beers and good prices, providing the perfect stop either from shopping in New Street or as a beginning to a night that will inevitably end up at Snobs just a few metres away.

Alternative Clubs 

1) Snobs, Paradise Circus Queensway.

The haven for those of the alternative scene, Snobs is the place to be if indie music and £1 drinks are your thing. While the main room plays the biggest contemporary guitar hits, hide out in the small room and dance to Northern Soul and lesser known gems for an even better experience. Go on a Wednesday or Friday for the student nights.

2) The Yardbird, Paradise Circus Queensway.

Featuring live acts, this tiny Jazz club next to Paradise Forum is one of the coolest places in Birmingham and, despite a pricey drinks list, is definitely a place to visit if you need to take a break from students for a while.

3) The Rainbow, Digbeth.

If house music is your thing, then head to the Rainbow for the best in electronic music. Look out for Seedy Sonics each month for the ultimate night in electronic music, which is one of the most popular student nights, guaranteed to sell out.

4) The Jam House, St Paul’s Square.

Home to one of the more swinging nights in Birmingham, Itchy Feet, The Jam House is a great night of rock‘n’roll, swing and soul and is one of the most enjoyable nights in the city, with a truly welcoming atmosphere.

5) Nightingales, Kent Street.

Located in the heart of Birmingham’s Gay Village, Nightingales is a vibrant alternative and offers a fun night out for anyone who fancies a change from the generic club scene.

Food

1) The parents’ visit – Pizza Express at the Bullring.

2) The hangover cure – Selly Sausage, Selly Oak

3) The cheap Chinese – Big Wok, Chinese Quarter.

4) The authentic curry – Shabah Balti, Ladywood

5) The ‘Special Occasion’ – Brindley Place, City Centre            

Gigs

1) Arctic Monkeys at LG Arena on October 31

2) Russell Brand at Symphony Hall on October 7 & 8

3) Public Service Broadcasting at Institute on November 12

4) Tom Odell at Institute on Oct 26

5) Craig Charles at Hare and Hounds on December 13

Original article available to view here

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Showcase for unsung talent at the Library of Birmingham (30/09/13)

Up and coming Birmingham bands will be taking to the stage at the Library of Birmingham on Wednesday.

Free School, Victories at Sea, Victor and Youth Man will be performing at the Studio theatre.

Organiser Lisa Meyer, who is creative director at arts company Capsule, said hosting Rise of Birmingham at the library was an important step in the future of the city’s cultural development.

“The new library is such an exciting new building that it’s wonderful to be able to put on an event there. It’s no longer just a place where you go and get books. It’s about making it a cultural space and we really want to attract new audiences in,” she explained.

“For this event we really looked to local bands to show off the renaissance Birmingham is currently experiencing. Placing music in the heart of the city was really important for us, bringing in the talent from all around. It’s a great opportunity for new students to see the new building and a chance for them to hear new music in a different location.”

Local duo Free School, based in Kings Heath, are set to headline the event.

Lead singer Andy Porteous, 38, thinks diversity is the key to Birmingham’s musical success.

He said: “Birmingham’s a collective organ, a melting pot that doesn’t have to be one thing. We’d rather not be part of a ‘scene’, we don’t want to be cool, we just try and do good things. We don’t sound like any one else and we’re determined to stay eclectic.”

He added: “Birmingham’s producing some excellent music and the nation’s starting to take notice. The future’s very bright.”

* Rise of Birmingham is at the Studio Theatre, Library of Birmingham, on Wednesday at 8pm. Tickets cost £5. For details tel: 0121 245 4455 or visitwww.libraryofbirmingham.co.uk

Original article available to view here

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‘We don’t mind being chased by girls!’ Sutton Coldfield singer of new boy band The Vamps (26/09/13)

They haven’t even released a single yet, but fresh faced Bradley Will Simpson of The Vamps is already getting chased by girls, even if it is just in his home town of Sutton Coldfield.

“We went out to get some food and there were about 15 girls hanging around,” says the 18-year-old lead singer.

“We didn’t think anything of it until we walked off and realised they were following us. We weren’t expecting it, but we stopped and let them take some photos though, they were welcome to come round!”

The Vamps bounded onto the music scene earlier this year after the four piece – Brad, James McVey, Tristan Evans and Connor Ball – met via social networking sites and garnered themselves a record deal.

Fresh from a tour of the UK, the band are about to release their first single, Can We Dance, on Sunday.

Former Fairfax School pupil Brad is excited about the release, but promises he is not going to get carried away with his new found fame, and that his friends make sure he stays grounded.

“It’s nice because my mates aren’t bothered about us at all,” he says.

“It’s not their kind of thing so they’re good to have a bit of banter with. It’s important not to take yourselves too seriously.”

And with his curly locks, Brad is the spit of One Direction’s Harry Styles, although he is getting a little bit fed up of the comparison.

“I’m starting to get bored of the Harry Styles comparisons,” he says.

“But to be honest, there are worse people I could be getting compared to. In terms of music, I think we’re more like McFly or Lawson than One Direction.

“They’re more ‘music bands’. They write and play their own stuff and that’s what we want to do. They’re a massive influence and I like comparisons with them as we write and play and we pride ourselves on that. We toured with McFly earlier this year and it was great to play to our own fans in Birmingham.”

Bradley’s influences are varied though, and he’s not just into the pop bands The Vamps are often compared to.

“I’m more into indie to be honest,” he says.

“Bands like The Strokes, Foo Fighters and The 1975 are what I’m listening to at the moment.

“The rest of the band are really varied, from pop punk to more acoustic stuff, we’re into a lot of different music.”

And now he is waiting for their album to come out.

“It’s 90 per cent done, just needs a few final touches. We spent about six months writing, did some work in New York and some in England and we’re really happy about the way it’s gone. It’s a good writing process, sometimes we come up with an idea, or vise versa. With Can We Dance I had this rough idea and we went from there.”

So what’s the dream? Does Bradley crave the lifestyle of the rich and famous?

“What I’d really like is just to still be going in 10 years, striving to be a better band.

“Just to keep going really, keep getting better. That’s the important thing.

“But an arena tour would be nice.”

Original article available to view here

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Birmingham band Superfood play The Rainbow in Digbeth (2/07/13)

Birmingham band Superfood will play The Rainbow in Digbeth on Thursday.

The baggy psych-pop band have not so much surfed the B-Town wave as smuggled themselves onto the boat that’s currently sailing through it.

After supporting Birmingham’s current indie pin-ups Peace at their Christmas show in Digbeth last year, they have gone on to support fellow Brummies Jaws and have recently wrapped up a tour with hypnotic hippies Splashh. They are now set to embark on their first ever headline tour.

Borrowing from Britpop and following the current Birmingham musical trend to look to the 90s for inspiration, Superfood encorporate loose sounds of Happy Mondays and Blur with classic Gallagher guitar patterns, leaving new demo, TV, not too far off a psychedelic re-write of Oasis’s Supersonic.

Debut single Superfood also harks back to early 90s American grunge, as nonchalant, Cobain-esque, observations such as “I speak to leaves because I haven’t got any friends” reminisce not of teenage rebellion, but of rejection or general disinterest and apathy.

For tickets visit www.birminghampromoters.com

Original article available to view here

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Gretchen Peters performs at Bromsgrove Atrix (25/06/13)

Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters heads for the Midlands next week with a performance at Bromsgrove Atrix.

The Nashville folk artist will be promoting her latest album, Hello Cruel Word, which has been described by BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris as “elegant, touching and articulate”.

The singer has been nominated for Best Country Song at the Grammy Awards. She also won the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year for Martina McBride’s recording of her song Independence Day.

She has been a hit songwriter for 20 years and has penned songs for both Neil Diamond and Etta James.

Gretchen began performing as a teenager in Colorado, taking influences from Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, and was determined to prove that in an industry that often separated singer from songwriter, it was possible to be successful singing her own songs.

She said: “The either/or attitude was baffling, since all my favourite artists also wrote their own material. I was afraid that if I got signed to a record deal as an artist, I’d never get to sing my own songs. I never had any aspirations of being a hit songwriter for other artists.”

She describes her 9th album, which bridges themes such as survival and triumph with more darker subject matter inspired by the suicide of her friend of 30 years, as her “most close-to-the-bone work, written at a time when I felt absolutely fearless about telling the truth”.

She will be performing at the Bromsgrove Atrix on July 1 at 7:30pm. Tickets cost £19.50 and are available from www.atrix.co.uk or 01527 577330.

Link to original article available here

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Interview with Editors (21/06/13)

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Hugh Laurie brings the blues to Birmingham Symphony Hall (17/06/13)

Comedy legend turned blues musician Hugh Laurie will be performing at Symphony Hall in Birmingham tomorrow.

Following the release of his second album, Didn’t It Rain, the multi-talented musician, famous for his appearances as both one half of comedy duo Fry and Laurie and introverted genius Dr House in the hit US television series, is continuing his foray into the musical world.

The album, which builds on the success of his New Orleans influenced debut, Let Them Talk, is the second collaboration with producer Joe Henry and delves further into the American heartland, taking influences from early blues entrepreneurs including W.C Handy, Jelly Roll Morton, Dr John and Animals organist, Alan Price.

“I have resolved to forge on, deeper into the forest of American music that has enchanted me since I was a small boy,” explains Laurie. “And the further I go, the more bewitched I become – both by the songs and by the people I have been lucky enough to play them with.”

He will be accompanied by members of the Copper Bottom Band, featuring David Pitch on bass, Vincent Henry on horns and Elizabeth Lea on trombone, with vocals from Jean McClain and Gaby Moreno.

Tickets cost from £32.50. For more information visit www.thsh.co.uk or call 0121 780 4949.

Link to original article available to view here

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Finding their voice (14/06/13)

Interview and preview of Sing Live, a choir of 200 amateurs performing at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham

PDF available here

Artist’s unique take on life (12/06/13)

A review and interview of artist Marie Wood’s latest exhibition.

PDF available to view here

Link to original article here

The artist gave this response to the article:

“Thank you so much for your delightful words, measured and well crafted but hinting at the real me so adeptly.
I’ve enjoyed talking to you, your freshness and intelligent probing enabled me to ‘speak’”

A students freshersguide to Birmingham. My first double page spread

An interview with Bradley Will Simpson, lead singer of The vamps, a week before they released their first single which went to No. 2 in the UK Top 40.

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