Saturday, 3 May 2014

Digbeth, Birmingham 5

Two hectic days in England - the challenge being to get to Manchester and back on days when there are no low-cost flights from Warsaw to either Liverpool or Doncaster or back. The answer - the 6:00 from Okęcie to Luton, thence by bus to Derby, and by train across the Pennines, just in time for a 15:00 seminar start that I was to chair. The National Express coach took its time, meandering through the East Midlands, calling at Milton Keynes, Leicester and Nottingham before arriving in Derby. On the way back, I took a National Express coach from Manchester to Luton Airport, changing at Birmingham.

The new coach station is located in Digbeth, Birmingham 5, on the site of the old Midland Red bus depot, just a few paces from a pub and music venue that I'd often frequent while a student at Warwick University - the Barrel Organ (now the Dubliner). It was here that I would see Ricky Cool and the Icebergs - the band that had an enormous formative influence on my musical tastes to this day. American music from the late '40s and early '50s - from jump blues and R&B (Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, Little Walter, Jimmy Liggins) through Western Swing (Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys) and Country & Western (Hank Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford), all delivered with excellent musicianship and a large dose of humour. I must have seen Ricky Cool and the Iceberg 20+ times before the band reformed as Ricky Cool and the Rialtos, then as Ricky Cool and the Big Town Playboys. They still tread the boards as Ricky Cool and the Hoola-Boola Boys, though I've yet to see this line-up...

I had an hour and ten minutes between the Manchester coach arriving in Digbeth and the one for Luton departing, so, after a pint of mild and packet of scratchings at the Dubliner, gazing at the empty stage, I took myself around Digbeth in search of Bricktorian Britain. And here it is...

Below: the Selfridges building (left) stands at odds with the spire of St Martin in the Bull Ring. Welcome to Birmingham, Britain's Second City.

Below: the Big Bull's Head public house, on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street. Across the road, an old advert for dog food has been restored to its former glory.

Below: under the viaduct on Oxford St. It's built from Staffordshire Blue brick that has a hard, impervious surface and high strength. The viaduct carries the railway line to Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Left: under the viaduct (on the opposite side of the road to that shown above), the cast iron screen of a public lavatory, or Temple of Relief. For Gentlemen only, Victorian lady-folk needing to spend a penny had to look elsewhere. The local authorities have blocked off this facility, though vandals have broken in. It's now used (unofficially) for what it was originally built for.

Below: ensuring that law and order in Digbeth, the local police station is quite an imposing edifice, with clock tower and balustraded roof. It is neither Victorian (built in 1911) nor brick (stuccoed Italianate in appearance)

Below: Meriden St, and the premises of Norton Hydraulics. Note the motto of the City of Birmingham on the roof gable - 'Forward'. A reminder that Birmingham was once the workshop of the world.

Below: looking north up Meriden St (Meriden, about 15 miles away, is traditionally said to be located at the very centre of England). Victorian brickwork - factories, warehouses, viaducts - abounds.

By purest Coencidence, just after arriving home from my two days in England, I was tidying my room and sorting through boxes of mementos of yesteryear, when I came across no fewer than three Ricky Cool and the Icebergs playlists, at least two of which were picked up after a gig at the Barrel Organ.

Below: here they are...

"The Tennessee Local is a smoky little, pokey little train..." Indeed, Jack.

This time last year:
Still months away from the opening of the S2/S79

This time two years ago:
Looking at progress along the S79 (how little has been achieved!)

This time three years ago:
Snow on 3 May

This time four years ago:
Two Polands

This time five years ago:
A delightful weekend in the country

This time six years ago:
The dismantling of the Rampa

This time seven years ago:
Flag day

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