The Sound of Moselele

One of the great things I did last year was join Daz Wright's Moselele group, aka 'the second best ukelele group in Moseley'.

Sometimes it ain't pretty, sometimes you need to sing songs by Spandau Ballet or Bonnie Tyler, but it is always entertaining.

Occasional extras include bongos, saxazoo, bass acoustic, sleigh bells and shakers, but tonight it was just us, the music, a single kazoo and the lowest fi mobile phone video known to man. It had to be done…

PS. The Moselele Facebook group is here!

Black Swan Sunday

Today was one of those chilled blue Sunday afternoons, perfect for going walkabout with cameras: destination, the concrete jungle of central Birmingham. Scenes from Black Swan, which we saw yesterday at the Electric, must have embedded themselves inside my mind but when I uploaded the images I found out just how much I had focused on windows, reflections, shadows and mirror images.

Look into my eyes

I love me

Len Lye post office film 2

Len Lye post office film 3

Window self-portrait

Reflected reverse ziggurat

Birmingham Central Library windows

Snow Hill Station in reverse


Here's the full set of photos from today's photowalk on my Flickr. Pete was on an FM2 so will have to await processing in the good old-fashioned way.

The new Stirchley Village in pictures

I took a photowalk down my local Stirchley High Street on Friday to log the growing diversity of shops I'd been noticing there of late, including a new pop-up tearoom…

Stirchley pop-up tea toom-17

There are lots of independents in Stirchley Village (as it now seems to be have been renamed), such as: P Browell Tobacconist, Wards greengrocers, Pandora's Music Box, Skinnys Ink tattoo parlour, Music Exchange, Maginnis Opticians, Wolseley Sausage Company, The British Oak pub and others.

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Stirchley Village-7

This is NOT a homogenous high street – and all the more interesting for it. For example, how many other Birmingham high streets can boast a European consulate?

Stirchley Village-63

There are quite a few clusters of businesses, too: hairdressers, hydroponics shops, carpet stores, junk shops, nail bars, balti restaurants, Chinese takeaways and a growing number of estate and letting agents – a sign that things are changing for Stirchley.

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But the most interesting shop for me was the pop-up tearoom on the corner of Ivy Road. It's only open for another month or so before it moves on like a magical moveable feast to Hodge Hill – but it's a lovely little place to go and hangout for a bit.

There is free tea served in bone china cups, free biscuits, art, craft and storytelling projects, community conversation and someone to reminisce about Stirchley with – in my case a former lollipop lady, who summed up Stirchley as having it all – except for parking spaces.

The tearoom events progamme is here. Some evening events are also in the pipeline, possibly a film screening and more tea-tasting sessions with Karen (pictured top).

I intend to revisit Stirchley's high street evolution in more detail in a future post, namely because I wrote my first ever published article on the breakdown of shops here. But for now here's the slideshow, or see the full set on Flickr.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at]

Birmingham Hula Hoopers: give it a whirl?

Last night Karen Strunks introduced me to the world of hula hooping for fitness, taking place in a church hall in Moselely and taught by possibly the smiliest person I've ever met, Julia Higgins, who runs Birmingham Hula Hoopers.

As you can see from the awkward jump through the hoop, it flexes the parts other exercises don't ordinarily reach. But we learnt lots of tricks in just one hour and I was quite chuffed to even be able to do this.

Also much fun was Hula Hoop tig (tag?). Being 'It' was hard work but picking up dropped hulas every minute gave both the heart and the gluteus maximus a very good workout indeed!

Original video source: Twitvid/Karen Strunks

Sessions every Wednesday in Moseley St Columba's Hall on Chantry Road, £3, followed by Julia's ace zumba class (£5 for both). You'll probably have to register you're going on the Facebook group, though, as space is limited.

Arty Xmas and a crafty new year

WaB xmas trees-1.jpg

These are some of the handmade Christmas tree decs I bought from the We Are Birmingham shop last week (while attending KTB's acoustic gig). Only £2 each. Ain't they lovely?

Go do your Christmas shopping – it's only a few mins walk from the Bullring and full of unique and unusual gifts!

For a shop and a gig, I think the last Friday of the month is going to be a regular music night showcasing local talent.

My big fat fake wedding

I never thought I would see the day that I put on a brocaded wedding gown (with train, tiara and veil) but somehow it finally happened last weekend. Here I am…

Fiona The Bride 1

This is why I've been absent from my blog (and social life) for so long. There are few things in life that involve such commitment. Two whole months of preparation every Tuesday evening, every Saturday afternoon, then every Sunday too, and finally every day leading up to the big day, or rather weekend. But at least I wasn't alone.

Wedding © Nicola Duke/Bham Opera

It all started a year ago when I fell in love with Birmingham Opera Company after joining the cast of Othello, their nationally lauded contemporary version of Verdi's Otello, set in a warehouse in Digbeth, carpeted like a mosque and featuring a community chorus of volunteer amateur singers. When they started rehearsals in September 2010 for Stravinsky's Les Noces – aka the Wedding – I was there like a shot for another season of 'tra la la'…

Wedding © Nicola Duke/Bham Opera

Stravinsky's ballet was a far more difficult piece to learn, though, despite two months of rehearsing and note-bashing with choirmaster Jon Laird and despite having a CD with our parts sung for us.

As the publicity reads: "The Wedding is a screaming, shrieking, flat out masterpiece with its rhythmic drive and unique sound world- 4 virtuoso pianists on grand pianos, a dazzling array of percussion, 4 soloists and a chorus. Written as a ballet in 1923 for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, Stravinsky drew on Russian traditions to conjure up a vivid and intense depiction of the old ways, and the not so old!"

I suspect most of the chorus found the musical soundscape of Les Noces quite anarchic with every part seemingly at odds or out of sync with each other. But since Birmingham Opera's director Graham Vick had said that he wanted space to play and experiment (more so than usual), it seemed the perfect piece. Here are the tenors and basses, by the way, instructed by Graham to act like baboons behind a cage sign saying "Please do not feed the grooms"…


The setting was the AE Harris factory in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter – home of Stan's Cafe theatre company. 'Just Married' was daubed in giant red letters across one wall, the paint dripping like blood. Bouquets and wedding photography were poked into factory fittings. The grooms were in their cage, the brides prepping in one of the four main performance spaces (it's a walkabout opera). In the centre were the percussion instruments and four grand pianos. Meanwhile, Frankincense filled the air scenting it like a church.

pianos © Judith Holt

The performances went off differently each time – some electric, some a bit lacklustre, some more musically correct, some all over the shop. As Jon Laird, conductor and choirmaster, said: "We're riding the wave of uncertainty – again." It's the nature of working with enthusiastic amateurs I expect, and part of the challenge to all those involved.

(Jon also said a few other things during note-bashing – his entertaining approach to learning is one of the main reasons the amateurs show up again and again despite all the hard work. His encouragements veer between backhanded compliments, screeching impressions of the sopranos, perfect analogies and random metaphors: "It's hell – and then it suddenly makes sense"; "Good. Good and terrible"; "You're flailing around in a sea of pain"; "Can we have less wicked witch of the west and more heavenly angels please ladies"; "This is a beautiful tapestry of joyous Russian STUFF"; and so on.)

Here are the sopranos being obedient while trying to read the repetitively rhythmic words and also watch Jon for cues.

© Nicola Duke/Bham Opera

Apart from feeling like you're in a real-life version of Faking It, joining the Birmingham Opera Company is a real social event for the participants. The Wedding had 120 in the company; Othello more than double that. Here are my fellow brides and I milling about ahead of the opening scene.

The Wedding

The after-parties are pretty great too… it's where the temporary bar gets drunk dry.

Wedding party -3

I did keep a diary during the making of Othello until it got too busy and manic. I must get around to posting that here or somewhere because I really would encourage anyone who enjoys singing to get involved (next production is in spring 2012). It's a long time to wait though. And at the moment I am full of post-performance MEH! So until then I may as well wallow in these photos of my big fat fake mass wedding and my lovely Sop 1 bridezillas, such as Annabel and Judith pictured here, who got the best dresses by far. Sadly for us the honeymoon is now over.

© Judith Holt

Pictures: © Pete Ashton, Nicola Duke, Birmingham Opera Company and Judith Holt.

A night of personal improv-ment

Whose Line Is It Anyway
Whose Line Is It Anyway - screenshot by Skitzitilby/Flickr

After a week of unusual nights out– featuring trampolining, Balkan and Israeli folk dancing and ukulele to name three – tonight had the potential to be the weirdest yet.

The Box of Frogs theatre impro workshop is held in Moseley, Birmingham's arty, crusty and eclectic postcode, every Tuesday evening. For just a fiver, you can revisit your inner child for two hours of pretend, singing, mirroring, general making things up on the spot and playing games called things like 'Zip Zap Boing'.

Now let me just say, I am not the dramatic type and hate being put on the spot. I used to be very shy and hid behind my mother's skirts when people came to the house. I also hated acting at school and found it false, stressful and humiliating. As an adult I can hardly breathe when speaking in public. Oh and being a ginger, I blush to the roots.

And yet… I admire people who can perform naturally, who can wing it at a talk or who can give a confident or charming presentation. And there is something (megalomania?) within me that drives me towards taking the lead. I also seem to have an occasional exhibitionist streak and have sung/played on stage (for Gordon Brown) in what now seems like another lifetime.

Finding an improv session in Birmingham was part of my SXSW Interactive follow-up, after feeling particularly inspired by the fun, games and confidence-building at a session called Improv Lessons for Freelancers.

Box of Frogs featured seven players and was fascinating, supportive and not at all embarrassing. This was unexpected considering that tonight I have had to perform a contemporary dance about dog walking, sing in fluent nonsense and play a bank manager so obsessed with a potential loan customer's spectacles that she just had to touch them and get them for herself.

Because the great thing about improv is that nothing you do is wrong! For once, the brain can take a day off from fretting about getting it right.

Which was a particularly good thing – because I spent the first 10 minutes in the church next door doing vocal exercises with the local choir.

Now that's what I call improv!

SXSW Wordle spells 'Content people want'

SXSW Wordle I took 16 pages of notes at SXSW Interactive festival this year. It's hard to get your head around all the difference panels, talks, core conversations and notes-to-self but I think this Wordle shows something of what I was getting from and attending at South By in 2010.

It's particularly interesting that the top three words are: 'Content people want'. I guess that's the key and secret to online enterprises.

There is more to blog tomorrow ahead of the long plane ride home. PS. You can click on the link to see a larger version of the Wordle.

NYE at Birmingham Coach Station

NYE2009_Birmingham_Bus_stationApologies for the cross-posting but my new travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller is now up and running, and has some nice, shiny new content on it so I'm shouting about it a bit.

It being that time of year, I've just posted up my 10 New Year's travel resolutions for 2010 on there and also ticked one of them off by writing up a picture post on the recently opened Birmingham Coach Station, where I spent a rather entertaining New Year's Eve.

PS Can you spot me in the Christmas bauble?