Young Parisians

Posted on 10th April 2012

Did I mention I went to Paris to take part in the 2012 QA Hackathon? Did I remember to mention all the cool stuff I got done? Well if you've been hiding for the past few weeks, have a look at the last couple of posts :)

As per usual, while there I took my camera along. However, unlike many previous visits to Paris, I didn't do any sight-seeing. And that includes failing to wander around the venue we were in and discovering the real submarine among other things, that others found while taking a breath of fresh air.

Instead I spent my time hacking away, and only occasionly coming up for air for food, drink and some camera action.

With over 40 people in attendance, it was going to be difficult to capture everyone, but I think I managed it. If I did miss you, my apologies. It was great to meet so many friends old and new, and a real pleasure to finally put faces to names that I've known for a while, but not had the opportunity to meet in person.

So many great things happened in Paris, and I'm really looking forward to see what we can achieve in London for the 2013 QA Hackathon. See you there.

File Under: community / hackathon / opensource / paris / photography / qa / testing

Things Don't Mean What They Used To

Posted on 26th March 2012

Back in the '90s a young band touted themselves round the Midlands and sometimes further afield. Unfortunately I never got to see them, but did acquire a cassette tape at some point and remember being impressed. I was later told that the keyboard player was my mate Pete Spoz, who I'd got to know as one of the Jellyheads, who used to come along to many of the early Ark gigs. The tape is now somewhere in the loft in one of many boxes og hidden gems.

A few months ago, Pete told me that Giovanni (Pete's brother) was reforming The Sordid Details with Mick Couch, Rick Cox and himself. Here was my chance.

Sadly due to other commitments, of the three Re-Onion dates, Bromsgrove is the only one I could make. So on the 18th March, over to The Hop Pole in Bromsgrove I went for my first Sordid Details gig. Full of friends and family, the night was set for a top gig.

The band began as The Sordid Details, with a great selection of their own classics, along with a couple of covers, the first of which, Wish Away, they were joined by their good friend Ash on vocals. After about an hour they closed the first set with The Stranglers classic No More Heroes.

The second set began with a selection of songs from their days as Stereogram, when they played as a three-piece after Pete left. Pete rejoined them on stage for a run through a selection of covers, and a few more of The Sordid Details classics, before Dave from Jam DRC peformed some guest vocals with the band.

The night ended all too quickly, even though the band had been playing for over two hours! A fantastic night and I'm only sad that I won't be able to see them play The Flapper & Firkin in Birmingham on Saturday 31st March. If you happened to be in town on Saturday and fancy a great night out, you'll not be disappointed with The Sordid Details. Hopefully they'll come out retirement again some day, so I see if my bootleg tape recorder still works!

File Under: bromsgrove / gigs / music / photography

Sold On You

Posted on 27th November 2011

Two weekends ago, The Paul Menel Band played their first gig with their new line-up. Debbie Saunders joins the band on sax, and adds that soulful sound back into the mix.

The venue, The Marr's Bar in Worcester was a great little club, and I hope I get to see more gigs there. It's only downside was the fact that it is typically an 18s and over type venue, due to licensing, and as a consequence there is a large young audience in the town that aren't able to get in to see gigs. This is a shame as I think we should be encouraging a younger audience to live gigs, as so many venues have closed due to lack of attendance. Hopefully The Marr's Bar doesn't suffer the same fate.

The gig itself was brilliant as always. Due to a late cancellation of the support act, Paul's son Luke Menel stepped in and provided us with a stunning performance of various acoustic indie tracks. Considering his age, Luke is truly a star in the making, and it will be great to see his musical career progress.

Being a small venue, the band's energy was bursting at the seems, and you could tell everyone was enjoying themselves. Several times during the set, Steve Harris looked lost in his only little world with licks flying along the fret board. Steve Swift, Bill Devey and Ian Diment all deftly locked the band into the groove and allowed Debbie, Dr Steve and Paul to soar, as they did often.

During Under Your Wing, Paul brought Luke back on stage to add backing vocals as he does on the forthcoming album, Three Sides to Every Story. The song itself is a very personal song for both Paul and Luke, so it was great to see them both taking centre stage. Tonight was a great showcase for the band, and hopefully some videos from tonight will eventually surface on YouTube as we had several different camera angles on the go.

In the meantime, collating my photos of the night we have the soundcheck, Luke's performance as well as the headliners.

Date: 12th November 2011
Venue: The Marr's Bar, Worcester

File Under: gigs / menel / photography

Dreams (Keep Me Alive)

Posted on 21st April 2011

On Saturday, 2nd April 2011, the Superficials played their first gig at The Hawthorns Social Club in Rubery. After being stuck in the studio recording their debut album for several months, it was great to actually hear the songs that Pete had been telling everyone about.

Attended by friends and family, the gig was primarily a private gig in celebration of fellow Jellyhead Craig's 40th birthday. As such, it was a very supportive audience, not that it was hard to win anyone over. The songs are very infecious, the playing was top notch and the performance from the whole band was solid.

The band consist of Martyn Terry on vocals & sax, Trevor Flowers on lead guitar, dB on drums, Cheese on rhythm guitar and Pete Spoz on bass, keyboards & backing vocals. Despite being a new band, the collective members have a wealth of previous experience under their belts, and although it might have been their first gig, you could easily be forgiven for thinking they've been playing together for several years.

Running through the complete album, as well as several unrecorded songs, the band settled into a groove quickly, and took us on a tour of aural delights. Their sound, although very indie/rock in nature has some mod and classic rock influences too, which suits the current climate of interest for indie bands at the moment. Songs like Emergency and The Truth highlight the band's foot-tapping rythmic grooves, Pushing Daises and Futureday bring out a more jangly-pop sound, while songs such as Dreams (Keep Me Alive) show off the band's more soulful side. Although I can't hear specific influences, there are parts that remind me of bands like The Mighty Lemon Drops or The Trashcan Sinatras, and even The Jam. All in all a great mix of tunes and well worth checking out.

My thanks to Pete for the setlist:

Eye Of The Storm
Spinning Song
Pushing Daises
Dreams (Keep Me Alive)
The Truth
Nostalgia Lies
If You Think About It
All The People
Two Thousand Days
28000 Miles

For more details on the band, visit the Superficials page on Reverbnation or follow the Superficials on Facebook. The album, Surface, is out now, and with more gigs lined up, you'd be wise to see them now before the NIA and world wide tours beckon.

Check out more photos from the gig:

This is part one of Craig's 40th Birthday Bash. Part two with The Festival Experience will appear soon.

File Under: gigs / music / photography / superficials

A Letter to Elise

Posted on 28th September 2010

The Jewellery Quarter has always held a lot of history within its streets and buildings, but having worked around the area for a few years, I completely missed some of that history. Although I knew of Warstone Lane Cemetery, The Agent Centre, The Chamerlain Clock and of the older buildings, I'd never really looked up their history. Last week I discovered that Birmingham had catacombs, and they had been right under my nose in Warstone Cemetery all this time. As such, I thought it might be interesting to take some time to look up some more history of the area.

After only a few minutes, I decided that Dan and I should take a photo tour of The Jewellery Quarter, and pick out some highlights. Our first stop was at Northwood Street, which was once home to tw2, the web design company I started working at in 1999. We then went around the corner into Regent Place, along to the building now occupied by D&F. From 1777-1790 there stood a large house where James Watt once lived. Not only did he live here, but in partnership with Matthew Boulton, he also worked here too, and produce many of his most famous inventions here. Around the corner is the school that is now part of Birmingham University, but still today concentrates on teaching pupils the art of sliversmith and jewellery making.

Although many of the factories have been replaced over the years, many still hold the history of the trades of a bygone era. One such trade was the making of pen nibs for fountain pens. Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was once the highest producer of pen nibs in the world, and its decline only came more recently, due to the mass production of László Bíró's invention by Bic. However, The Pen Room in the Argent Centre still exists to preserve the history. As you enter, you walk into a room instantly full of history. Around the walls on the left are various packages and pens, with the centre given way to cases of exhibits. On the right are some of the old machines used to make the pen nibs. On a quiet day the staff are more than happy to give you a demostration, although they can only perform 5 steps of the process, as the other 12 require machines too large to fit in the room, as well as time to perform them. Dan got to punch out the metal and stamp it to begin the process, and got to keep the results. He was quite impressed to realise that all those years ago, children the same age as himself were producing all these nibs. Of the stamping process 28,000 per worker were cut from the sheet metal.

Next we were shown some of the braille machines that were also produced in Birmingham, with Dan getting to spell his name in braille on the ticker type machines. After the demonstrations, we were lead into the second room, full of typewriters, pen nibs and other exhibits, with the opportunity to try some of the typewriters, as well as try writing with some of the pens. A member of staff took out an old German typewriter that was very unique as the characters were all on a single barrel, and the letters chosen via a metal pointer attached to the barrel, and pointing at the letters on a curved pad. A very unusual typewriter, and I should have taken a photo, as I can't find anything like it online. Looking at some of the other exhibits, it is surprising to discover just how much an impact the pen industry had on Birmingham (as well as the world), with many pioneers having been since commorated with street names, mounments and buildings. Josiah Mason, John Baskerville and Joseph Gillott to name a few.

Across from The Pen Room was Joseph Gillott's Victoria Works, and is one of a few factories that can still be seen, the Argent Centre itself (previously the Albert Works) being one too. Incidentally the Argent Centre at one point was also a Turkish Baths. Another bit of history I discovered, is that the stories of 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow' were actually written in a house, whose grounds covered the corner of Legge Lane and Frederick Street. The house survived even after the Argent Centre was built in front of it, to occupy the corner itself. Further up Frederick Street is the factory of Thomas Fattorini Ltd, who moved to Birmingham from Italy, via Skipton, and was renowned for making medals and badges. I used to walk past these buildings every day when I worked at The Big Peg, and although I often took the time to take in the grand designs of the buildings, I really wished I'd taken more interest at the time. I'd have probably spent most lunchtimes walking around with a camera :)

We then entered the central part of the Jewellery Quarter, by the Chamberlain Clock and Aquinas House. From here we walked across the road to the Warstone Lane Cemetery Lodge, and to The War Stone. The former is not something I'd really paid attention to before, and the latter I never knew was there. From here we walked into the cemetery. In the central part of the cemetery are the catacombs. Above them originally stood St Michael's Church, which has long since gone. From images and drawings the cemetery was meant to be viewed from the Icknield Street entrance, with the catacombs appearing to be leading into the church. However, the abundance of trees these days hides a large part of this viw now. The catacombs were once used from protection in WWII, but have now all been boarded up, although some had already been closed with upright headstones. A link to our visit to The Pen Room is John Baskerville who is buried here. Although I didn't find his gravestone, there is a sort of memorial to him.

As we were planning to spend all day wandering around, we walked back and drove around some of the other places, such as Icknield Street School. Next time we'll take some time to visit the Key Hill Cemetery, which is just the otherside of the train station, and holds many famous Birmingham history makers, including Alfred Bird the inventory of egg-free custard, of which the Custard Factory is named (and perhaps another tour some day). Another place we'll visit is the Jewellery Museum at the top end of Vyse Street, as well as taking in more of the buildings in and around St Paul's Square, including The Assay Office, the biggest in the world.

One of Dan's fascinations of the day was the BT Tower. So as we headed back home, I stopped at the base so he could take a picture. Opposite we discovered the building that is St John's Ambulance Headquarters, which I've probably walked past several hundred times and never really noticed. Just goes to show what you can be missing when just walking through the streets of the town where you live.

It was a great dayout, and a good reminder that discovering history is only a short step away from your own doorstep. And it doesn't need to cost a fortune either.

If you're interested in the area, and perhaps doing a similar walking tour, I thoroughly recommend reading The Walk by Bob Miles, as well as the additional material Bob has assembled over the years. I wished I'd read more of it before setting out on our trip, and I'll definitely be using it for the bits we missed when we visit the area next time.

File Under: birmingham / museum / photography / sightseeing / structures / walks

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