Birmingham Rejuvenated

I went up to Birmingham on Sunday. I had been invited to an organ recital in the Town Hall to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my friend Thomas Trotter becoming the City Organist. I first came across TT in 1987 when I was doing Crossroads (just down the road from the Town Hall in the old ATV studios) when the city organist gave a free weekly lunchtime recital on Wednesdays (nowadays they are fortnightly, given on Mondays and cost £6). The first Trotter recital I went to thrilled me no end and turned me on to playing the organ again, something I had not done regularly since leaving school. I got to know TT and since then we have done many concerts together. (The next two will be the lunchtime Carol Concert on December 9th and a family concert some time in April, both in the Town Hall.)
I drove up and got there in plenty of time, arriving in brilliant sunshine and awaited my lunch companion Mr Gray, Chairman of the Jerome K Jerome Society. Tony had decided to take the bus from Walsall but managed to catch a slow one which stopped at every corner and even went through Perry Barr. So I had time to explore the new library.
Last week, the Birmingham-born actor Martin Shaw, about to appear at the new Birmingham Rep in a play of Twelve Angry Men, denounced the new building as a monstrosity. He has a point. From the outside it seems to be imitating neo-Soviet brutalism, decorated in hugely awful metal circles (why?) which will make the windows a hell of a job to clean. But Shaw should have gone inside the library. It is one of the most jaw-dropping new buildings I have been in. This was at mid-day on a Sunday – and the place was heaving, really heaving, with families exploring and using the place. And not just white English middle class people but heavily-tattooed English working class people and others from all describable ethnicities and skin colour. Escalators whizz you up the 1st and 2nd floors beyond which a steep travelator takes you to the 3rd and thence a glass-walled lift to the top. People were queuing.
On the first floor was a lady novelist chained to her desk writing a book in situ. Passers-by could offer suggestions as to where the story might go and what she was writing appeared simultaneously on a big screen beside her. Children and adults (including me) were enthralled. There are terraces and viewing platforms but best of all an area on the lower-ground floor (the Children’s Books section) with different levels on which were scattered bean bags and mattresses. On these, a dozen or so adults were lying with their children reading books to them. This is Birmingham! On a Sunday! With the sun shining outside! Inspiring. Back in the late 1960s when I was a student here, you would have been laughed at even to suggest such a thing could exist let alone used. I hope Brum can keep it up – there were an awful lot of (helpful) staff on hand. And local government cuts have been severe in the City…
I went on to lunch with Tony (an excellent Italian just round the corner) and thence to TT’s recital. As usual, he was on top form and had devised a clever programme that showed off him and the organ at their very best – my favourite Bach Prelude and Fugue (BWV 541), the Meistersinger Overture (the walls were shaking), TT’s arrangement of Coates’s Knightsbridge March and the mighty Reubke Sonata on the 94th Psalm to finish. Trotter, like Birmingham, pulled all the stops out. At the reception afterwards, the Lord Mayor admitted he had never been to an organ recital before. He seemed genuinely won over though. Let’s hope he keeps putting his money where his mouth is.

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