It’s been a long year. So long I can’t remember exactly how I felt a year ago.
How did you feel? Were you hopeful, with Covid ‘over’ and the possibilities of being out in the world once again? Were you planning music festivals, gigs, cinema, art shows, going to the pub to chat about culture and politics with your informed and cultured friends?
Or were you suddenly confronted with the reality of your existence, as it was, pre-fabulouspandemic. Yes, you are still you. And you are still you, now. Whatever you were you still are, minus a year. Another year.
In the summer, In The Black Fantastic was a briefly transforming experience. That it was still possible to wander through a concrete gallery on the Southbank in London, see physical artworks (alongside some projected films) and still experience futuristic wonder was a revelation all by itself. I look back at art shows I have experienced in the past, ambient soundscapes struggling with the air conditioning and the fan on the four slide projectors as they gradually slipped out of time, the obvious papier mache trying to be some kind of organic statement in the attempt to recreate space worlds and creatures, the clunk of green screen and the shine of tinsel and glitter and yet, here we are (there I was) in a world that managed, like Sun Ra’s voluminous robes and James Brown’s moonwalk to convince that something immense was happening whilst threads unravelled and flares caught in socks.
Did I get out much? I can’t remember. Birmingham seemed to be stuck in a piss take of itself as the primary colours of the Commonwealth Games posters gave way to the last shake and dribble of the Festival For Brexit (renamed Unboxed, unlike the oven ready Brexit we ordered) crowned by the Tory Party conference during which there was the most desultory of old fashioned demos (including a confusing burn your bill circle, surrounding a kind of wok into which you were meant to chuck your fuel bills) in a finale just yards away from the main entrance to the conference where blue-tied estate agents wrapped in laminates entered and exited as if in a different universe.
I missed all the music festivals in the city. Looking back, I can see why - Jethro Tull might have appealed to a short lived teenaged me but JT boss Ian Anderson runs the risk of actually being arrested for the child molester character he used to play for the first ten years of the group’s ‘image’, as do all old men with beards and baldy heads who insist on taking to the stage in tights and leering at the audience whilst blowing a flute. I should know. That was the Moseley Folk Fest, along with Whispering Vashti Bunyan and sharpened old pencil, John Cooper Clarke. Other festivals featured singers and rappers with microphones, backing tracks on laptops and occasionally musicians pretending to play or, even worse, session musos jazz funkin’ all over electronic pop tunes as the word gets round the rappers and R&B artists that it’s a, you know, music festival, with, like proper musicians ’n’ that and their innate lack of self belief compounds with their egos and label money to create abominations that seem to drag audiences into approximations of 1990’s Saturday night TV show features whilst spitting foul words that would have got them locked up if they were Sex Pistols in 1976. I presume - I didn’t go. Sorry, Cardi B.
Unfortunately I also didn’t make the Solihull Summer Fest to see Billy Ocean’s teeth and elbows, Bad Manners looking saggy, genuine Jamaican superstar Shaggy elasticating his ten minute set with singalongs, or whoever is in Shalamar nowadays doing the second original moonwalk whilst a bass player slaps his E string like a seventies dad disciplining a baby.
I would have liked to give Aswad a chance at Simmer Down in Handsworth but didn’t notice it happening. I also am belatedly impressed that the Skatalites are still ‘alite’ and would have loved to check out the assorted River Island on a rolypoly jazzfunk hooligan audience who no doubt would have been exercising their moccasins to Heatwave. But, like I say…
The excellent Blacklash exhibition at Birmingham Museum was an eye-opener. I thought, as a grizzled old anti-racist type that I understood the nightmares that Black and south Asian people endured in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. But, just from the posters that were once glued to walls around the city and exhibited here, I realised there was a small massacre of people, actual murders, that I was just unaware of. Pre-social media this was the way news travelled because, it sure as hell didn’t make the ten o’clock news back then.v
The trams made it all the way to the Hagley Road then stopped running because the screws turned the wrong way. Digbeth still seems to be a promise, as if someone wafted Essence of Hoxton from the top floor of a night bus that didn’t stop there. Black and brown people now officially outnumber puce and pink people in the city but that doesn’t seem to have made anything more exciting, neither has the fact that Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe (I read somewhere). Culture happens in cars, as if Japanese nightclubs have grown wheels and allowed skunk and nangs.
The most exciting rapper in the Midlands was jailed (Pa Salieu).
Tha Kidz (the other ones) unfathomably still love Emo-related rock bands (hey, Paramore are playing the Utilita Arena in April!). People died who once made some of us happy and a man was stabbed to death on the dancefloor of The Crane last night (the same night I watched an old film of The Stiff Records tour from 1977 and saw beefy, hairy bouncers searching punters on entry even then, so it’s a real mystery as to how anyone could bring a blade into a club nowadays).
What does 2023 have in store? You will still be you. But you get a chance to say, once and for all (god willing) you saw Elton John growl his last growls whilst Still Sitting in June, Harry Styles in his home made jump suits bewildering people like me in the same way that contestants on the Sowing Bee celebrity special bewilder me (who’s she again? Rod Stewart’s wife. Right.) And the gradual inching of the trams along the Hagley Road, getting closer to where I live and the eventual transformation of my life but not yet. And I will still be me, grumpy but fascinated at what humans do to each other in the name of entertainment.