What Culture for a ‘City of Culture’?

So the government are indulging in a bit of circuses to go with the bread they hand out, they’ve decided to arrange a UK ‘City of Culture’ to supposedly ape the successes that the European Capital of Culture scheme has had. Birmingham, of course, will bid. Let’s leave aside that it’ll all be a bit low rent, with much less cash to spend than the pan-European ones, it’s a good idea no? Possibly.

Philip Parkin is right that it’s an opportunity to stop hiding in Stratford’s beardy cloak.

It’s quite heartening to see that Minister for Fun Martin Mullaney say the strapline for should be, “Birmingham, It’s Not Shit – It’s Quite Good Actually”. He also mentioned the sort of culture he thinks we should celebrate:

  • Mini car – designed by Alec Issagonis at Longbridge and built there
  • Spitfire airplane – built at Catle Bromwich Spitfire
  • BSA Bantam motorcycle – built in Small Heath
  • Rotunda
  • Selfridges
  • Range Rover – built in Solihull
  • Aston Villa football kit and Birmingham City football kit
  • Odeon cinemas – started in Birmingham by Oscar Deutsch, who was born here. Odeon is claimed to mean Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation
  • TISWAS
  • Football referee whistle – designed by Joseph Hudson in the Jewellery Quarter
  • Wimbledon ladies singles trophy – manufactured in the Jewellery Quarter
  • Lonsdale and Commonwealth boxing belts are still manufacture by Thona Fattorini Ltd in the Jewellery Quarter
  • JRR Tolkien – lived in Moseley
  • Sir Michael Balcon – born in Birmingham – grandfather of Daniel Day Lewis – film producer at Ealing studio – Sgt George Dixon of Dixon of Dock Green named after Michael Balcon’s school
  • Jasper Carrott
  • Duran Duran
  • Black Sabbath and Ossy Osbourne
  • UB40
  • Ocean Colour Scene
  • Ruby Turner
  • Joan Armatrading – moved to Birmingham from Saint Kitts aged 7
  • Benjamin Zaphaniah (sic)

Some gems, some things that aren’t culture at all (especially odd shoehorning in engineering and sport under the auspices of design) but all a bit blindingly obvious really. And things from Solihull? Daniel Day Lewis’s Granddad? Hmm. A fuck off big free concert with Sabbath, UB40, the Durannines (plus Steel Pulse, The Beat, Felt – reform Felt, Lilac Time etc) would be great. But we, perhaps rightly, turned our noses up a little when Liverpool did it with Ringo.

Meanwhile Rich Batsford put together an alternative list:

Which is more like it, although I’m not sold on the importance of venues and promoters – much more the stuff that goes on in them.

But both lists seem to miss the point, and lack ambition. Any large festival should be looking for new and innovative things — even if they must reflect our past. Jerremy Deller’s recent Manchester Procession (for the Manchester International Festival: which, by the way, just gets on and does it every year) let a proper artist loose with the culture of an area, he picked out:

  • the Black Out Crew with their latest track; specially composed for a fleet of modified cars.
  • a 100 year celebration of Stretford’s extraordinary Rose Queens.
  • the Stalybridge brass band marking their 200th anniversary with a commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre.
  • a musical tribute to the world’s first fish and chip shop.
  • the legendary Valerie’s market café recreated in all its glory.
  • the largest ever gathering of local sporting mascots.

So can we have:

  • Crossroads the Opera – performed by the Birmingham Opera Co?
  • All the old art-deco picture houses opened up for a weekend and used for films again – 7 inch, one for you?
  • A Birmingham Comedy Festival that has something to do with local comics (wither Sid Field) rather than stop off from Jimmy Carr tours
  • Get Jez from the Birmingham Music Archive to curate a local music festival, host it in the Little Nibble, Bearwood
  • Real time recreation of Take Me High by Stan’s Cafe.
  • A real art cinema opened in the Central Library building – there’s badly needed legacy.

And absolutely no mention of Tolkein.

What would you book?

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