On the 26th of June the Adrian Boult Hall building played its last gig, before that area is levelled for preparation of Phase 3 of Paradise. I took a walk around the area surrounding the entrance, taking photos for posteriority/posterity, and to remember the times of the Library Theatre, the shopping mall and its gardens, and the Brutalist designs of the Hall leading onto the Birmingham Central Library.
I started my day with a quick visit to Birmingham’s Current Number One Tourist Attraction. Walking up via New Street, the malevolent owl eyes of the Chamberlain Memorial stared at me intently. Since my last visit in April, much had been made of the splitting of the Central Library straight down the middle, enabling views of Chamberlain and Centenary Square through his hanging innards. What a mess they’ve made. Diggers and cranes bustled about noisily amongst the wreckage. That day, I was a vulture, and decided to walk around the bypass to get to Centenary Square.
Electric lights fizzed and crackled as I went round the side of the old Fletcher Walk Shopping Mall. The makeshift walkway teeming with bustling commuters and ambling students, homeless people and myriad clones. To get away, I headed for the stairwell that led up to the the Adrian Boult Hall. A sign greeted me as I headed over.
Sanctuary away from the crowds. I headed up the stairs. It stuck me suddenly that this place would soon to be inaccessible and then destroyed as with the Central Library. A view over the top of the railways showed me what had happened to the park…
In front of me, the walkway that had previously led up to Paradise Forum with the McDonalds where I had regularly sat down with a Big Mac meal observing the sumptuous views of the Chamberlain Square amphitheatre, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Town Hall, was now sealed off to the public for good.
The Library Theatre was also up that walkway. Since I started out as a writer-artist (!) in 2004, the Library Theatre was an incredibly hard to find nugget in Birmingham’s crowd, tucked impenetrably away well behind Madin’s monolith. But what a free-for-all of a programme! Cheap rates and word of mouth ensured that those in the know booked the event regularly, and to fantastic ends. For a while the Birmingham International Film Society held its screenings there. It was very popular with the emerging poetry scenes within the West Midlands, and was a popular venue at Birmingham’s Artsfest. My fellow Wrote Under crew member and Sunday Xpress partner-in-crime Big Bren had a cabaret event there during 2007, and we booked legendary punk-poet Attila the Stockbroker to play for us that year too. But now, all those memories were behind the closed door.
The Hall was on the left. I looked at the plaque, confirming that this, the Birmingham School of Music was built in 1973 by The Queen Mother, under what it was then the Birmingham Polytechnic (later Birmingham City University). There were people on the desk, but I didn’t go to nose in. The old Conservatoire building had been as much of a a testament to 1970s interior design as its elder sibling, the Central Library. Still smelling faintly of digestive biscuits and must, faded carpets and strip lighting. A sad loss for the past. A the Birmingham Conservatoire had impressive links with Writing West Midlands and of course, Birmingham City University, and I also spent a lot of my writing education in those rooms attending performances and helping to organise events. Soon, it would go. In fact, the new Conservatoire building on the Parkside Campus on Eastside looks very impressive, and I looked forward to the day I would be able to visit. For the while, I made very small talk with the security guards and receptionists, and went on my way.
Before I headed back down the stairs to join the crowds, I looked inside a walkway into the Fletchers Walk Shopping Mall. I was faced with obscenity, which I took to be a reaction to the ongoing upheaval. The walls bleeding with anger, a final defiant stand against progress. All around was destruction. Birmingham’s burgeoning finally rejecting itself. What if the money runs out? Concrete intestines dangling. The sad eyes in the windows of whats left of the Birmingham Central Library staring into the souls of Brummies. We did our best for him.
Choking on piles of his own rubble and filth, being prodded at with cranes. A farewell to the 20th century, and fast forwarding to Phase 3, starting in 2019 and the artists and architects visions of the utopia future of Paradise. Striding with purpose to business meetings, sitting with friends texting with cups of coffee. Bland tokenisms and PC nods. Sitting amongst the rubble and filth in bespoke tailoring and bouffant hair, being poked at with cranes.
Walking down the stairs for the final time I passed proud parents with their children carrying instruments up to the Conservatoire buildings for one of the many swansongs in the programme that would take them up to the 26th of June. We nodded politely to each other. Walking up to Centenary Square I spun around to take in the spectacle of Birmingham’s Current Number One Tourist Attraction, and whipped my phone out to take a photo like so many others, to share it on social media like so many others. It’s good that so many people are all united in their remembering and logging. Keep the records going – we now all have our own mind-palaces, our methods of loci in the palms of our hands. Used wisely, we will enter Phase 4 of Paradise, maybe before Phase 3 is marked to be complete in 2026…