Monday, 7 December 2015

Soul Food: More Art and Music in Birmingham

Pre-Raphaelite art, nativity trails, Martyn Joseph and soul boats have all featured in my most recent travels around Birmingham. I’ve been enjoying the soul food all of these have provided.

To give you a taste of this menu for the senses I start with a taster of what you can find just wandering around the city at the moment. The German Market is taking over most of the city centre and the stalls provide a picturesque walk down between Symphony Hall and Grand Central (New Street Station). At the far end by the Rep and the Library it stands under the shadow of a giant observation wheel and next to a seasonal skating rink. This all provides a picturesque wander around the city, particularly at night. Looking in the windows you can also find wonders such as the Teddy Nativity in the Cancer Research Shop. Then there is also the Bull in the Bullring which has been festively dressed.

The Nativity can also be found through art in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. This trail through the free areas of the museum begins with a beautiful stained glass window Peace and Goodwill by Henry Payne. It was originally in the Methodist Chapel in Cradley Heath and as that place closed has since ended up in the museum. The sheet you use to guide you then takes you on to the work of Edward Burne-Jones, Arthur Hughes, Giovanni Bellini, Orazio Gentileschi and Adrien Isenbrandt amongst others. The Burne-Jones painting The Star of Bethlehem was particularly striking as was The Nativity by Arthur Hughes. The latter was the painting that most got me to stop and reflect on what insight the painting could give me into the bible passages which were familiar. Mary is very young in this picture and whilst not Mediterranean or middle-eastern in appearance there was something more earthy about her than in many other pictures.

Hughes nephew E.R. Hughes is the subject of the current headline exhibition at the gallery Enchanted Dreams. It focuses on his Pre-Raphaelite work and has a mixture of conventional portraits and more imaginative work which seems to mix the colour influences of the impressionists with the style of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Amongst his portraits of children one of Bell and Dorothy Freeman was particularly striking in its beauty. Another one of the portraits which was particularly beautiful was “Study of a Female Head”.  

The central part of the exhibition was Blue Phantasies, a series of paintings he made during the earliest twentieth century. There were three of these paintings which I found particularly beautiful. The first was “The Valkyrie’s Vigil” which was a wonderful mixture of purples and blues. The second was Wings of the Morning which was a beautiful woman flying in the nature of an angel. She represented the light which comes with dawn.  The final one which I loved was “Midsummer Eve” where a mixture of magical folk surround a fairy princess. This exhibition does cost if you don’t have a museums and galleries membership card, but as I have said before it is well worth the cost if you can get one. This was my second visit to the exhibition and no doubt not my last. It is a beautiful piece of calm amid a very busy city at the moment.
St. Phillip's Cathedral has completed their renovation work and has a great piece of community art by Jake Lever called Soul Boats in there. It is a piece which hangs from the ceiling and is well worth a look if you are in the area, and of course it is free to view.
Moving out of the city centre itself I have discovered the suburb of Kings Heath and the Hare and Hounds pub which is one of the significant smaller venues in the city. Tonight it hosts a BBC 6 Music BBC Introducing night, which we have tickets to – having been successful in a free ticket ballot – last night we paid to go and see Martyn Joseph.

This is not the first time I have seen this talented Welsh singer-songwriter (as detailed in my previous review of a gig of his) but there was something palpably different about this one. The anger and angst of the past was gone and seemed to have been replaced by an acceptance of himself. He was clearly aware of this change and at the end of the gig explained to the audience it is because he has moved into a new chapter of his personal life.

The importance of his Welsh identity continued to be central to his set. It was good to hear Please Sir as well as Cardiff Bay and Dic Penderyn (The Ballad of Richard Lewis) – that latter of which kicked off his set.

These older numbers were not the only ones which audience members were familiar with. He went back to the early days with Friday but Sunday’s Coming. There was debate amongst our group of when we first heard it. Having looked back at the sleeve notes in Don’t Talk about Love: Martyn Joseph Live ’92-02 it seems that that track goes back at least to the early ‘90’s.

Amongst the older stuff there was also Kiss the World Beautiful which was resurrected on last year’s album of the same name which was put together to support the Let Yourself Trust, which Martyn has founded to support small grass roots projects in the UK and abroad.

The Luxury of Despair was also a song on the Kiss the World Beautiful CD. This track has also made it on to the new CD Sanctuary. Much of the rest of the set was material from this new album. There was a moving track called Her Name is Rose which was about his mum and celebrating her 80th birthday and Girl Soldier was also very moving.

His current single off Sanctuary is called I Searched for You which had a catchy sing along chorus.

The venue was quite intimate and suited this type of folk gig well. That combined with there was a bit more music and less chat than in some gigs meant this was one of the best gigs I have seen him play over the last 29 years, and there’s been a few. 

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