Much longer version of an article I wrote for this week’s Guardian Travel Section – they said 300 words, but I can’t shut up when I get going:
Rush Hour Blues: Free Commuter Jazz
Symphony Hall, Friday evenings
Don’t worry, it’s not free jazz as in a wizened old saxophonist honking and squeaking with a split reed until your eardrums bleed. In fact the definition of jazz as it relates to these smashing gigs is pretty loose, as is everything about the experience, there’s none of the snobbery normally associated with jazz. Just trot up to the Symphony Hall bar after work on a Friday and you’ll get some of the finest chill-out sounds around.
Cannon Hill Park – including the MAC and Nature Centre
A vast expanse of greenery near to the centre of town, it has all the usual park features, boating lake, dilapidated putting green, but it’s also home to the Midland Arts Centre (huge variety of exhibitions, films and performances) and the wonderful, otterific Nature Centre. Where else can you see hundreds of furry creatures for under two quid?
Simon Patterson, of Great Bear fame, and Olafur Eliasson are just a couple of the artists to have had shows at Birmingham’s premier modern art gallery. With a nice policy of mixing up the bigger names with some artists with local connections, there should always be something to scratch a conceptual itch on display.
The Back to Backs
Birmingham has a lovely knack of opening any old shite to the public, there’s a wonderful variety of privately as well as publicly-owned museums. Right in the city centre there’s the lovingly restored court of early C19 back-to-back housing, which is now run by the National Trust. Also worth a visit are Soho House – once Mathew Boulton’s home and meeting place for the Birmingham Lunar Society (members included James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestly) and Sarehole Mill which, despite it’s over-played Tolkien associations, is a interesting working flour mill.
Its disparaging name, which harkens back to its roots as a cloth market, disguises one of the most varied shopping experiences in Britain. There are still fabric bargains to be had, but there is a variety of bric-a-brac and recent antiques that would shame many of London’s more famous marketplaces. There are also approaching-their-sell-by-date toiletries.
Big Screen Birmingham
In the sixties carbuncular amphitheatre that is Chamberlain Square is one of the BBC’s projects in ‘Public Space Broadcasting’ – a huge telly – it might be showing major sporting events or experimental films, such as local ‘film club night’ Seven-Inch Cinema’s recent ‘slomo challenge’. The Beeb is even more philanthropic to Brummies as its home in the Mailbox includes a visitor centre, where you can drop in and try your hand at reading the news and weather amongst other things, or bump into whispering Bob Harris on his way in to record for Radio 2.
Patrick Kavanagh Bar,
Woodbridge Rd, Moseley
If you’re willing to make a trip out of the city centre (and you should, you should!) for a night out, then this is one of Brum’s
hidden gems. Not only is there a big screen, for the big match, a big room upstairs that hosts a wide variety of comedy, DJ and band nights, but there is a deli in the back bar. Get a lovely pastry with your pint – smashing!
Where to stay –
I’ve never stayed in a hotel in Birmingham, but if I did I’d stay at the Old Crown, in Digbeth, which is Birmingham’s oldest pub dating to the 1400s and claims Queen Elizabeth I and Dick Turpin as past guests. You won’t need the wallet of a Tudor monarch to stop there though; a room can be had for £35.