Birmingham: Jazz at the Spotted Dog


Being England’s second city it shouldn’t come as a shock that Birmingham has a historic, vibrant and diverse Jazz scene. A subculture bolstered by the students of Birmingham Conservatoire’s top-class Jazz department – which itself regularly puts on live performances. The scene is probably best showcased by the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival held in Moseley Park and the citywide Birmingham Jazz & Blues Festival. Both of which typically book a few big names and international artists alongside wide variety of local lesser-known artists.

But if you really want to get to know the scene, see the city’s musicians in their element and cutting loose, then my suggestion would be to hunt out one of Birmingham’s more informal and free-form nights. There are three such notable events that widely revolve around an ethos of improv and jamming: Fizzel, held weekly at the Lamp Tavern, Bain/Pulsgrove held every Monday at Yorks Bakery and the Tuesday Jazz nights at The Spotted Dog. The latter being the one I most recently frequented having assurance from a friend that the band playing – Zhenya Strigalev’s Never Group – were really quite good.

The Spotted Dog, perhaps unsurprisingly for a pub hosting a weekly experimental Jazz night, is located in what has become Birmingham’s most brazenly hipster district, official known as Digbeth. However, upon entry one is greeted with the décor and atmosphere of classic, if not antiquated, British pub. It is only by wandering out into smoking area that will realize that the pub conforms to Digbeth’s penchant for off-key trendiness. The drinking house’s outdoor decorations include: a gaggle of partially dressed and dilapidated manikins, two oversized lady’s dressers, a large smoking penguin and a bookshelf. On the night in question I got a chance to briefly peruse the shelf only to find it was mainly filled with old business studies textbooks, with one notable exception being a paperback entitled The Art of Zen & Sex, which I gave a quick flick through before I heard that the band was starting to play.

Once the band started performing in the corner of the room it became clear that my friend’s reassurance had not been misplaced. The Saxophonist who I assume was Zhenya took a peculiar stance; his instrument perched delicately between his lips as he stared up to the ceiling as if pleading to be possessed by some unholy jazz demon. The music aptly became wilder and more discordant as the set progressed, only held in by the Never Group’s unquestionable technical skill.

The night continued with me happily bopping along to some unexpectedly energetic and at times even ferocious Jazz. The pub began to fill up until there was quite a crowd and I noticed that many of clientele were carrying instruments of their own. It soon transpired that they were all planning to get involved in the night’s open jam session following the live performance. This was when the night really took off as a collective of shaggy yet jovial music-students bounced off and strained to excite one another, engendering an electrifying sense of anarchic fun. They certainly made me want in. I had once played the trumpet for a time, but last I checked my instrument was out-of-tune and I had been reliably informed that the tuning slider was irreparably rusted shut. Then again this was an experimental night; perhaps one of these Jazz aficionados could figure out something useful for me to do with my old, rusty, out-of-tune trumpet, though I doubted it.


Later that week I went to see a band called Weave play as part of the Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines live performance and education programme. The crowd, who on average were at least a generation or two older than the one in The Spotted Dog, were sat stilly and attentively in an arc around the band as they produced a far more refined and summery version of Jazz than the one I’d heard a few nights before. If I’m completely honest I found it a tad innocuous and I wasn’t quite getting along with Weave’s double trumpet no sax setup. To the side there was a stall trying to recruit people to the Royal Marine’s Band Service, which I perhaps considered with some cynicism.

I realized the Jazz-scene in Birmingham is not homogenous, it caters to a variety of sorts, not all of it will suit everyone, but that in large part is what makes it worth exploring. For myself I definitely feel that, the poor book selection notwithstanding, I will be returning for another invigorating night at The Spotted Dog.

Guest blogger: Stewart Yarlett


India- Tribal traditions vs. pop culture

IMG_4108Tattoos have ancient roots embedded deeply in Indian culture. Mehndi, commonly known as Henna, is a form of temporary body art that began centuries ago and typically lasts only a month. While we now may see these intricate patterns as synonymous with the onset of Coachella or Glastonbury, they were usually reserved for festive celebrations of marriage, religious occasions and ceremonies. However the nature of its practice has come under threat in recent years.

The henna plant, also known as Mehndi in Hindu and Urdu, is indigenous to much of Asia and is used as a temporary ink in the ritualistic application of these intricate patterns. The swirling geometry is traditionally applied to the hands and feet, yet a decreasing supply of traditional Mehndi artists is contributing to the recent degradation of its popularity. As more and more people are drawn to the urban centres of India, maintaining the tradition has had to compete against its market ready counterparts of mass-produced and professionally prepared D-I-Y henna cones. Only in rural areas is the practice of grinding henna leaves with oil by stones preserved.

It is not just availability of traditional artists that is driving the design change, but the influential role that pop culture is beginning to play. Like a dialect, different regional patterns of tracery have developed across India, as well as variations that appear in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan. Each custom has a slightly different ethos and inspiration, with traditional Indian designs being representations of the sun. Mehndi’s interaction with a new urban environment is perhaps just another variant in this way- drawing on the media for inspiration rather than nature.

Recent years in India have seen a growing demand for realistic tattoos, of monuments or animals, in addition to the rising importance of personal touches and tweaks into the design. Instead of simply going for the classic Mehndi design of your region, people now look to Google for inspiration. When given the choice, the traditional patterns usually used in Mehndi applications rarely come first. The pressing presence of pop culture combined with globalisation has seen cultural relevance and personalisation over take community orientated artistic expression.

This is nothing new in Europe or America, where no traditional body art practice existed before the onset of permanent tattoos. However by joining the dwindling of the temporary, traditional Mehndi practise to the increasing demand for permanent, personalised tattoos, one thing is apparent: ease of access and customisation come up trumps.




Geneva’s unlikely social hotspot

IMG_1103Nestled on the shores of picturesque Lac Leman, overlooking the Alps and the majestic Mont Blanc, lies Les Bains de Paquis, Geneva’s new après-work and weekend social hotspot.

First opened 150 years ago with the sole aim of providing Genevois people with a place to enjoy the sun and indulge in a bit of swimming in the summer, the pier has now become Geneva’s most happening and talked about social destination.

Blessed with glorious sunshine and long summer’s days, culturally Geneva’s after work traditions rarely revolve around an evening spent in the pub, as the opportunity to soak up the evening sun with an alcoholic beverage in hand seems to be all too appealing. There’s no better place in the city to drink the evening away with your friends, family or work colleagues than Les Bains de Paquis. There’s never a dull moment & it all comes at a reasonable price as well, something hard to come by in a city with expensive tastes.

One thing that sets Les Bains de Paquis apart from the run-of-the-mill Geneva social hotspot is its unbelievable variety in experiences and activities all within such a small area. Anything that you can think of you are more than likely to be able to find it on the pier, with food, drink, music, swimming, Turkish baths, lectures, poetry and even Tai Chi classes all at your disposal throughout the summer. The pier even hosts dawn concerts every Thursday morning at 6am in the height of the summer months. Therefore, if you fancy listening to music whilst watching the sunrise over the mountains and lake before pitching up at work for the daily grind, then Les Bains de Paquis is the place for you!

Not only is Les Bains de Paquis swimming in social activity, the pier is teeming with revelers of many different nationalities, all mixing and soaking up the electric atmosphere. Les Bains de Paquis epitomises the international feel of the city. There aren’t many places in the world where one can enjoy a drink with a view, whilst simultaneously experiencing the best of multiple cultures and enjoying conversation with people from all over the globe.

No visit to Geneva is therefore complete without experiencing the wonders of the city’s irrefutable social hub. Whether you’re an art lover or you’re just looking to have a few drinks in a lovely setting, there is no better place in Geneva than the scenic and one of a kind, Bains de Paquis.





Pop Up Public Art in Christchurch

boxparkOn 22nd February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand, was hit by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. It caused widespread devastation and killed 185 people.

It was recently the five year anniversary and a number of news stories reflected on what has occurred since the earthquake in New Zealand’s second biggest city.

The rebuild is set to cost an estimated NZ$40bn and has been faced with criticism in its efforts and timescale. Despite this, as The Guardian reported, ‘residents in Christchurch say it [the earthquake] has also given them a chance to thoroughly examine and debate what they want from their new home, and allowed creativity and innovation to flourish’.

Accordingly, a number of charitable organisations have worked with the notion of creativity in Christchurch since the earthquake. Gap Filler, an initiative described as  ‘filling the gaps of Christchurch with pop up creative projects’ suggest that ‘before the quake, people thought of Christchurch as quite conservative, but now the opportunities have given people a blank canvas, if nothing else, and people are very open minded about what the spaces could be.’

Similarly, Greening the Rubble – a charity providing parks and outdoor community spaces on empty land in the city state that ‘‘…art is even more important after traumatic events. You can’t always put into words how you feel.’

Throughout Christchurch, this notion of a new lease of life through creativity is clearly evident.  Despite the fact the centre is filled with the sound of drills and shells of former buildings, there is pop up artwork and creativity around every corner. Exploring the city is a sensory voyage involving immersion in new and emerging public art and sculpture.

Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighbourhood is an installation by Peter Majendie consisting of 185 white chairs. Representing each of the 185 people who died in the earthquake, each chair is different and reflects a bold memorial to the loss Christchurch experienced.  Visitors are invited to sit on the chairs and take time to reflect.


The Transitional Cathedral is a temporary space for worship and reflection as the city’s cathedral was severely damaged in the earthquake.  Designed by the architect Shigeru Ban, the Transitional Cathedral is made out of cardboard and seats up to 700 people.


Shipping containers are a common sight around Christchurch. They have been, and still are, used to block entrance to dangerous areas and hold up semi fallen buildings in the city. However, since October 2011, they have also been used as part of Re: START – a unique retail space consisting of temporary buildings made from shipping containers. The space also consists of a multi-media attraction named ‘Quake City’ which tells stories of Christchurch’s earthquakes.

The inclusion of creativity and art in the process of rebuilding Christchurch is uplifting, and allows for the injection of colour, imagination and vibrancy juxtaposed with rubble and construction. It has built new spaces for people to enjoy, rebuilt new places of worship and importance and allowed for an expressive way to work through the grief and impact of such a traumatic event. Christchurch highlights the importance of public art and creativity within the process of healing and will remain visible as the city rebuilds.