Thursday, January 23, 2014

My three days at Birmingham

I had the pleasure to visit Birmingham some days ago for the 7th Organic.Lingua project meeting, between Tuesday 14th and Friday 17th of January 2014. Being an avid Black Sabbath fan since my high school days, a trip to Birmingham, where Black Sabbath started playing was always a dream - now to come true. I still remember a discussion I had with Susie, a member of the BCU team, back in the Organic.Lingua kick-off meeting, asking her about the possibility for BCU to host one of the project meetings in Birmingham. I had to wait almost three years and for the last project meeting in order to get my feet there!

Ozzy's star at the Birmingham Hall of Stars
Ok, I have to admit that I tried hard to have all my presentations ready before I got to Birmingham, which would allow me to have more free time and spend more time around the city; I managed to do so. I also admit that I had a hard time finding free time during the fully-packed project meeting but feeling the vibes of Birmingham I did not feel tired at all at any time. The time difference between Athens and Birmingham also helped, as I usually went to bed early (based on Greek time) and woke up really early (again due to the Greek time). This allowed me to spend a couple of hours on early Wednesday morning, right after breakfast, walking around the city and taking lots of photos. I have to admit that I was expecting an ugly industrial city; instead, I was amazed by what I actually saw: a lovely canal crossing the center of the city, nice shops, bridges, lovely brick buildings and interesting pubs. On top of that, I loved the classical buildings (reminding me of ancient Greece) and the numerous statues all over the city. All of them well-preserved; no sign of a graffiti or vandalism, a sight commonly seen in Greek monuments (even the most important and historical ones...)

The first day included a visit to Shakespeare's Memorial, at the top floor of the Birmingham library, where the meeting was hosted; this provided an excellent view of the city, as well as information on Shakespeare himself. After the meeting, we had a nice dinner at the Bank. But the best was yet to come...

On Thursday evening, an extremely interesting person was kindly asked (and he agreed!) to guide us around Birmingham and let us know of the cultural history (focusing on the music part) of the city. His name was +Jez Collins and he seems to be a Jack of all trades: Research project Manager at the BCU, the founder of the Birmingham Popular Music Archive, Executive Co-Producer for the award winning documentary "Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra" and a contributor to, among others.

UAH team, Jez and his iPad in the Crown pub
So what Jez did was to pick us up from the Birmingham Library right after the 2nd day of the meeting and guide us through some places where really interesting things have taken place, including concerts of Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath, while sharing the most amazing stories behind that! On top of that, he had a huge collection of related photos and videos in his iPad, through which we had the opportunity to see ourselves what he was describing. The first stop was at the Crown pub, where Black Sabbath gave one of their first concerts; as expected, I got shivers down my spine while entering the pub and exploring every corner. Unfortunately there must have been almost nothing reminding of that period, as the pub seemed to be in idle mode, with pop music coming from the radio and no sign of its history at all available...however, it was still an cozy place to sit and have a beer (and this is what we actually did).

The Crown pub
Unfortunately we had to leave rather early for catching up with other friends in Birmingham so we had to say goodbye rather early. The group went for another round of beers and local food in another pub, while we ended up at a ridiculously expensive (but still high quality and offering meat in large quantities) Brazilian restaurant, where the UAH team along with Greek friends had a nice dinner. That was the end of my 2nd day at Birmingham. Despite the fact that we had a nice time (and a rather lovely dinner), I think that I should have gone for something more traditional and original, following the rest of the team in another pub, tasting local dishes and another round of local beers...these are lessons taken!

After a lovely dinner
That was all about my stay in Birmingham; I would like to have some more time, visiting Aston (where Black Sabbath actually resided) but according to Jez, we would need a ride to get there, as well as more time and we lacked both. However, I hope that I will manage to visit Birmingham in the near future again and see what I have missed this time, also tasting a more traditional part of the city (instead of exotic ones!).

Big thanks to +Jez Collins for the amazing guided tour, sharing his time and passion with the rest of us, and of course to our local hosts (mainly Ben and Katharine from the BCU team) who arranged everything so perfectly!

Edit 27/01/2014: Ben Wells (BCU) shared this interesting and well-designed video by BCU featuring Jez Collins and his research; you should definitely take a look at that!