Last week, it was announced that the former Birmingham United Services Club on Gough Street (BUSC), most recently popular as the latest venue Eddie’s Rock Club was to close down and be re-born as flats. The phrase ‘re-born’ pertaining to a building amused me, especially given my recent posts about the Beorma Embryo. What’s especially interesting about this is for me is that the area of Gough Street and BUSC is where I first came up with the concept my project about Birmingham’s changing cityscape ‘The Wind’ back in 2008.
In September 2008, on the Artsfest weekend, for one Friday night only, BUSC was transformed into an ambitious ‘omnimedia’ event ‘Digital Dystopia’ overseen by the collective known as Project X. We were all affiliated that evening, and the club, with comfortable pub carpets, taps of John Smiths, Brew XI and Ansells Mild, were turned into multi-room installation depicting the terror and acceptance of CCTV, ID cards hosted by Big Sister and her Object X army, friendly face spray-painted robots armed with buzz boxes.
Sticky floors and wooden surfaces and a big ballroom sized room housed an impressive array of artists, great local bands such as 360, Mama Matrix and Shana Tova and distinctive and imaginative programming (a spellbinding acoustic performance by Aa’shiq Al Rasul was followed by an intimate and corrosive comedy performance by the great Reginald D Hunter). The show also boasted audio/visual sets incorporating theatre, interpretive dance and projections from Chromatouch, with sets from Mixmaster Morris for the all-nighters.
Leaving at around 3 in the morning, we walked down the impressively steep hill of Gough Street and crossed the road onto Smallbrook Queensway, where stupid here bought a bag of oregano off a young gentleman for £10. Never mind. With the Chinese Pagoda roundabout behind us, and the swooping lights and hollers of the Saturday night traffic behind us, we headed back up Bath Row to get back home to our flat in Langley Walk.
Inspired by this, I felt like writing a creative review, using the theme of ‘Digital Dystopia’ to harness the piece and sat down during the week to get on with it. What I found most exciting was the juxtaposition behind what Project X were trying to achieve, especially with the old-fashioned home that they had found, and all the small businesses that surrounded it were still – at the time, C Hopkin manufacturing was still standing, and both The Gough Arms and The Craven Arms were still very much community pubs before their current transformation, indeed, the arts crowd that had attended the Project X event mingled happily with the blokey blokes with their pints of Carling and blue Levi 501s. The weather had been typically early September too, a month that always for me brings a feeling of artistic and cultural re-birth. I wrote:
“The wind’s been lashed on Gough Street all week.”
Around that time in September 2008, I hadn’t started my MA, neither had I had my mind-expanding ear-operations, now had my employment at the call centre began to be a real drag. I had however been noting down my pub crawls and wanderings around the city centre from my hub at Langley Walk, a less than five minute walk from Gough Street. Photos had been taken and buildings amazed yet, but by then I hadn’t heard for psychogeography and Sebald and all that stuff; however, I believe my grounding in drama and performance theory, particularly within the work of Augusto Boal and issues around radical theatre certainly helped my understanding of psychogeography when I fell into it by accident around 2010 – do expect a blog post or two around it soon.
“The wind’s been lashed on Gough Street all week”
Changes were happening all around me. C Hopkin Manufacturing was due for demolition. I think actually that The Cube was still under construction appearing like so many other gestating buildings as a gigantic game of Tetris. Gough Street and Upper Gough Street are located just off Granville Street, which has a housing association, the Peace Gardens, a Tesco’s Express and the Arts Council buildings amongst new-builds and student accommodation. It is also a handy route to the glittering lights of Broad Street, and easy access to Gas Street Basin and the canal network. The air around Upper Gough Street is often thick with the smell of skunk, for me, one of the city of Birmingham’s key aromas.
I was in fact, part of the gentrification of that area in Langley Walk, which used to be, according to taxi drivers and former residents, a bit of a rough estate – Lee Bank and Attwood Green. Moving there in 2008, I was now right in the city centre on my doorstep, and enjoying the freedom to explore and roam around. Click here for an exploration into Digbeth that I used to take from my doorstep. The first few chapters of ‘The Wind’ will see me observing Birmingham from my inner world in the flat, and then taking me to the outside world from chapter 4 onwards – my first foray into the world of psychedelic psychogeography. Changes, seemingly shaped, by the wind. Birmingham as a blackboard, or, as a good mate of mine said recently whilst emerging at New Street “The world’s biggest never-ending construction site. I love it.”
Back in the present, Gough Street and Upper Gough Street are changing. There is a nucleus of one excellent pub (The Craven Arms) and one I haven’t been too yet (The Keg and Fiddle, formerly the Gough Arms) and the side route into the Mailbox, again, site currently under construction. C Hopkins Manufacturing is now gone, and replaced with the flat-dwellers utopia. Side streets can duck into the Mailbox, the Cube and Gas Street Basin, others into gentlemen’s clubs, Chinese supermarkets, a branch of Kwik Fit and other buildings designated for demolition, seemingly due since the 1970s or 1980s.
Around the old construction sites, there are now beaming pictures of desireablilty next to the Trident Housing Association.Towelling bath robes! Laminate flooring! Leather upholstery! Expensive wine glasses! Apple products! Flat screens! Glass coffee tables! Good coffee! Magnolia! Ceramic hobs! Spot lighting! Balconies! This is what Eddie’s and C Hopkins will be, and maybe that whole area will become finally the digital dystopia that Project X predicted.
Walk to Eddies and there are already signs of the building’s demise. A sheet hangs over the ticket office entrance looking ghostly and foreboding. A sneak into the building would see the rooms empty and cold and deserted. Stale ale, stale air. If I can get in I will. Outside, the concrete yard is already showing signs of that familiar inner-city wasteland I have grown to marvel at. Buddleia everywhere, where flats are set for construction, you can count on buddleia rearing its head. Looking for the spelling, I noticed this quote on this webpage, which I instantly took as an ironic snark on the relation between property developer and the plant “Buddleia is an opportunist that’s always ready to capitalise on any slight advantage.” The Wind came into life when the property market and the banks failed, and buddleia towered in the city. Maybe buddleia needs more of a prominent role.
Further down Gough Street, I would come across the appropriately named Hard to Find Records (now something to do with fitness) and at the bottom, scaffolding over another gentlemen’s club Medusa, which is set to become either/or student flats or a restaurant, with a sumptuous view of the Smallbrook Queensway bypass. More changes set to come over the next eleven years.
Indeed, this area will eventually be due for re-generation with flashing lights and laserbeams, as in Doctor Who, which would be fun for all the local residents in their flats. Imagine this with buildings. The kaleidoscope and morphing of the old, and the sturm und drang of the new, combined with the BBC National Orchestra of Cardiff giving it some in the background.