Spreading the word about the mayoral referendum

I’ve been supporting the Yes campaign for an elected mayor in Birmingham, and one of the big issues is awareness that the referendum is even happening (one poll said less than 40% knew) and especially when you think of younger voters. So it was really cool of local culture guide Area magazine to let me write an article for the April issue. I tried to keep it funny, neutral and relevant. Did I succeed? Have a read here:



Exit strategy

Around ten years ago I started Birmingham: It’s Not Shit, the reasons are well documented and it’s been an interesting, useful and, at times, fun ride. It’s certainly changed the path of my life, let me meet interesting people and do interesting things. But it’s never been intended to make money, I think of it as part hobby part community service—and at the moment I haven’t got the time, money, or energy for either of those. So this is what I’ve said on the site:

[blockquote]Seriously, for a few reasons (time to keep updated, money, energy, the increasingly commercial “hyperlocal” landscape) I’m struggling to keep the site updated and I don’t really want it to slip away. I’ve looked into handing it over to someone to run for free out of the goodness of their hearts like I have for 10 years (in May), but no-one suitably likely to keep the spirit with the time and skills to has presented themselves. I’ve never run the site for gain or wanted praise, so it would have to be someone very motivated to keep that up. So, I figure that someone who thinks there’s money here (and there could be if if you worked it, I do get offers) might be able to keep it vibrant. [/blockquote]

There’s a reason in the money thing—I think that people who have made an investment are more likely to have the time and motivation. And those two things are really what you need here;  you could in theory make money out of a site like this if you wanted to, but it would take work.

So it’s for sale.


Twitizen Kane

Yesterday, I tried the Twitpanto method on “the greatest film ever made”. As part of  ‘Yarn presents Five Stories High’ at Flatpack Festival, I re-interpreted around ten minutes of Citizen Kane. It was a tight deadline, so plans to do something really different fell behind just writing a script and getting together a few ‘actors’ I could trust.

In a live setting I was interested in how the audience would understand the language of the Twitter feed just being projected on the wall. I hoped to get heckles and confusing stuff too.

The script, is here. We got ‘moved on’ (for reasons of time I suspect) just before the bit about the principles, which I thought was the crux of it. Never mind.

I’m not sure everyone got what was going on but this quick review from another participant means that at least someone did:

[blockquote]”obviously, members of the audience start tweeting using the hashtag, and it was just hilarious. And silent, and awkward, but in a brilliant way.”[/blockquote]

The weekend’s other Flatpack activity for me was to chair a Q&A with Lawrence (ex of Felt etc), that was both more conventional and a little better received I think. Great fun, and really nice to meet a musical hero.


Touching cloth

On Friday, as part of Flatpack Festival, there’ll be a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia: the documentary about the Felt, Denim and Go Kart Mozart frontman (nay, genius). The blurb goes thusly:

“Lawrence is one of those legends that very few people have heard of. Hellbent on stardom from an early age he jettisoned his surname and formed Felt, an 80s indie band with enigmatic allure, enormous influence (on Pulp and Belle and Sebastian, amongst others) and negligible sales. Later came Denim and then Go Kart Mozart, but fame never quite arrived. Rather than a talking-heads rehash of the whole story, Paul Kelly (Finisterre) has crafted a tender, bleak, funny portrait of the man himself now, a labour of love which accumulated over several years. This screening is a homecoming gig of sorts – Lawrence used to live over the road from the Midlands Arts Centre – and both subject and director will be here to talk about the film.”

I’ll be hosting the Q&A afterwards, and am listening to the Felt back catalogue and reading this book as I type. Tickets are, at the moment, still available.


NewsJack — writing comedy quickly

I like to think I’m an amusing writer, and that I can think quickly. Doing a radio show for a couple of years I think demonstrated that, and I’ve tried my hand at stand-up comedy. But until recently, apart from the odd Twitter witticism  I’d not really tried writing topical comedy. BBC Radio Four Extra’s NewsJack is one of the few radio shows that has an open submissions policy, meaning that anyone can send in jokes and sketches and maybe get on and then get paid for them. I’ve had a few near misses that made it to the recording but not the edit, as they’re topical they’re disposable really so I wouldn’t share them. But this one from this week has a little bit of longevity so I thought I’d pop it up here. Hope it makes you chuckle.

NewsJack the Jung Ones


Web Q+As as a way for politicians to engage

I’ve been advising on Siôn Simon‘s campaigning for an (and to be) elected mayor of Birmingham for more than a year, but with the referendum on whether the city should have one coming up fast the pace of engagement has got to speed up. To go along with a launch of a ten point plan for Birmingham, I facilitated an ‘#AskSion’ video web chat for people to hopefully get information. We were pleasantly surprised with the number of questions and the intelligence of the debate. I was also really pleased that the web-streaming facilities provided by Civico (another organisation I work with) went without a hitch.

My favourite part of the Civco platform is the ability to share not just the whole video, but any sub-section or clip that you select. It’s a facility that I really believe can help people make sense of the vast amount of content that is often in civic meetings, and can really help spread the messages.

Here for example  is an answer to a Twitter question about graffiti from yesterday’s session:
Continue reading


Buy, or get free, some ebooks I’ve written

I’ve been experimenting with ebook publishing, once the sheer hellish pain of writing something you’re happy with is over the format, upload and sales part is fairly easy. Well, when I say sales I mean ‘putting on sale’ rather than getting people to buy them… that’s a whole other story.

I’ve got two ‘books’ available at the moment:

Poorly Collected Works 2010-11

A collection of writing from various sources. 20,000 odd words from the last year or so, culled from blogs, papers, mags and Dirty Bristow (the literary magazine I founded and edit).

“Exclusively contains all the grammatical errors and jokes edited out by original publishers. It’s a chance to pay money to read what you can for free if you search it all out individually.”

Concrete and Cocktails: a journey to Birmingham’s glitter-stained independent heart.

Can you drink in all of Birmingham city centre’s independent hostelries in one day? Yes of course, although it might not be sensible.

An unchained psychogeographic adventure from the editors of Dirty Bristow: Concrete and Cocktails: a journey to Birmingham’s glitter-stained independent heart.

Concrete and Cocktails free on iTunes. And free on other formats too.


New LP free: with chicken seasoning

The Internet has disrupted the musician’s lot as much as that or any artist, perhaps more so. So how do you get people to value an new LP? Maybe give it away with some fried chicken seasoning? Well that’s what mates Friends of the Stars are doing.

Their second LP, “Faith’s Meat Kiosk“, is coming out on 23rd April 2012 and to celebrate the’ve teamed up with Birmingham’s Jack Rabbit to do this:

You can pre-order it now. It comes in a number of flavours, all of which include a download of the “Faith’s Meat Kiosk” LP.


There’s also this charming video for the track Railroad Towns, shot around Lifford Reservoir in Birmingham, directed by Pete Ashton.



Road Trip: Round the Wrekin

This post was written by chum Pete Ashton, about a project we applied for together.


A few weeks ago an Arts Council funded commission came over the tootvine which looked pretty interesting. Turning Point West Midlands and Writing West Midlands were looking for a writer and visual artist to undertake a road trip across, you guessed it, the West Midlands and create some art during and about it in return for £4,000. My writer chum Jon Bounds suggested I put my photographer hat on and we apply for this thing, bringing Jon’s frequent writing partner Danny Smith on board as well. It was one of those rare occasions where you read something on an art funding website and think, hang on, I not only understand this but I reckon I could do it.

Neither of us had written a proposal like this before and while Danny has a fine art degree he was bad poorly with the sick and I don’t think he ever went in for that proposal writing thing anyway. But we have friends who can do this sort of thing in their sleep so advice was to hand and in the end we put together something fairly coherent.

Yesterday the rejection emails were sent out and we got one. Apparently there were 78 applications which apparently is a lot. And apparently an organisation which is in part there to assist artists in the pursuit and creation of their art isn’t able to give feedback on individual applications (and I do understand why writing 77 feedbacks isn’t necessarily the best use of public money) so we don’t know if we were in final shortlist or throw in the round filing cabinet right away.

It strikes me that while the whole arts commissioning thing has some fundamental flaws. There exist 77 ideas for a road trip across the West Midlands which will never see the light of day. Even if we apply Sturgeon’s Law and assume 90% of them were shite ideas that’s still 7 good ones. And think about all that time those people spent on their applications, time that could have been spent on something more productive.

More importantly, there are 154 people (2 per application) who aren’t going to do a thing they were intending to do. That strikes me as a terrible shame. Yes, the ideas wouldn’t exist without TPWM/WWM sparking them with the commission but that’s one hell of a bottleneck.

I hate bottlenecks.

We’ve decided to make our application public for anyone to read.

Here’s the PDF and here it is online.

We’re putting it out there for a few reasons.

Firstly to get a bit more feedback on this thing. We’d really value any comments, positive or negative from people in the industry.

Secondly to publicly demonstrate what we’re capable of and willing to do. We’d like to get paid to do this sort of thing more often and we think this document helps that cause.

Thirdly to see if anyone else wants to commission us to do it or something similar. The bid is written with TPWM/WWM’s raison d’etre in mind and we can probably adjust it for other box-ticking requirements.

Fourthly because it seems a shame to spend so long writing something and to only show it to a handful of people. We are natural bloggers after all. To not publish it feels weird to us.

But mainly to test the water for a crowdsourced crowdfunding exercise.

On the one hand we could try raising a sustainable level of cash to enable us to do it. Not necessarily four large but enough to put dinner on the table.

On the other hand it’d be really interesting to get the funders to collectively write the commission. Bear in mind I’m making this up as I type and haven’t consulted Danny and Jon at all, but let’s say we decide on the How but you decide on the Why. You give us our remit, our focus.

Or something like that.

Of course it could be that our idea is shit and should rightly be rejected by all and sundry. And if that’s the case then that’s fine. There are plenty more where that came from.

Final note – please don’t read this as sour grapes or an attack on TPWM/WWM and the whole arts funding setup which has real value in certain situations. It was our first ever application and we’re realistic about our chances. It just seems a shame to waste it.


If you’ve a comment to make, please leave it on Pete’s post for coherence. 


My appearance on the Today programme

While revamping this site a touch I was struck by how many of the sites and projects I’d linked to had just disappeared, so I’m going to try to make more of an effort to keep the records myself.

So, here’s me on Radio 4’s Today programme on 9/1/12, talking about Birmingham’s regeneration and how it “‘beats space’ as tourist destination”:

Jon Bounds on Today programme