March-ing On


Common Lizard

A heady mix of gladiatorial passion and throbbing football was the order of the day with Tamworth downing high-flying Salford City 2-0 at the Lamb Stadium. Salford City had risen phoenix-like in recent years with the unparalleled wisdom and experience of Manchester United’s former poster boys investing in the club. Unphoenix-like but very in tune with the death throes of a stricken grouse on the Glorious Twelfth, Tamworth’s talons were unsheathed and, with little regard for mixed metaphors, felled the northern giants.


But enough of that.

The avian theme continued, however, with our annual pilgrimage to the Forest of Dean with the West Midland Bird Club.

To notch up Hawfinch, Goshawk and Great Grey Shrike before the day was done is always mightily pleasing. Added for extra vim, in the skies above the New Fairy Viewpoint, were a Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Buzzards and Raven.

Also warming up nicely along the viewpoint was a couple of Common Lizards, either very confiding or just too cold to move.

To complement, here’s a lizardy cartoon from the crow Collection:


Its impossible not to enjoy a day out in the spring forest regardless of what may or may not be seen but there’s always something to gladden the eye. The Hawfinches were spied along the treetops at Parkend; the over-wintering shrike (there’s always one) put on an inhibited showing at Crabtree Hill and goshawks plied their distant aerial acrobatics at New Fancy.


Great Grey Shrike – Marek Szczepanek (the photographer, not the Latin name!)


Hawfinch – Mikils


The Commitments was on at the Alexandra Theatre, and we squeezed into the restricted leg-room seats to enjoy a hugely entertaining production based on the successful film, which was based on the successful book by Roddy Doyle, which was adapted for the stage, which whatever…


Apart from the usual grumpy tirade about having to pay outrageous extra ticket fees on top of ticket prices and then getting hit by a stealthy transaction fee (for what? For why? For Goodness Sake!) it was surprising not to be subsequently charged an entrance fee at the door and a completion charge to exit at the end of the show!

Tirade over. It was a great show, as summed up by this review by Diana Davies of the Express and Star:

The Commitments, New Alexandra Theatre – review and pictures

These are things we learnt whilst watching The Commitments stage show last night.

Soul is politics, soul is the rhythm of the working people, soul is sex and sex is soul.

Well if soul is sex then I am certainly in need of a rest and a cigarette after watching that performance at the New Alexandra Theatre. That much soul can wear a girl out!

Watching this production of The Commitments is like your best night out with your craziest friends – or family!

Set in Dublin in 1986, young music lover Jimmy decides to form the ‘world’s hardest working band’ to bring soul to the people of Ireland and sets about recruiting band members.

What follows is a cacophony of people shouting and occasionally fighting, oodles of laughs and some fantastic classic soul tunes.

Andrew Linnie who delivers a solid performance as the ambitious young entrepreneur plays Jimmy but he is ultimately the ‘straight man’ to the many colourful characters in the band and the production.

The strangely charismatic, ageing musician Joey ‘The Lips’ who claims to have a musical CV to die for, is back in Dublin to spread the word and love of God – though he spreads the love a little too freely with the girl singers in the band.

The base but annoyingly-talented singer Deco is played by Brian Gilligan. If soul is sex then the velvety smooth seductive voice of Gilligan is the aphrodisiac. His performances of It’s a Thin Line Between Love & Hate and also Try a Little Tenderness send a tingle down the spine that sinks down to your very toenails.

And his irrepressible energy in such upbeat numbers as Proud Mary, Mustang Sally and Papa Was a Rolling Stone is stubbornly infectious.

Sadly Deco is an aphrodisiac that works only if you close your eyes, as the character’s personal habits are as detestable as his arrogance and vanity.

Kevin Kennedy – who for most of Britain will only ever be Curly Watts – brings a lot of laughs as Jimmy’s ‘Da’ despite a dodgy accent, while my favourite character was Mickah, played by Sam Fordham, as the excitable and somewhat menacing ‘security’ man.

The trio of backing singers are played by Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders who, as well as demonstrating some incredible vocals, play interesting, individual characters who have their own influence on the dynamics of the band.

It came as no surprise to see everyone on their feet at the end of the show singing and clapping along – we had been fighting the urge from the start of the show.

Bonus clip: here’s a little taster of the gang from their Dublin show on YouTube:


This month’s Flat Disc Society film, La Strada, is also doing the rounds at the Birmingham Rep this year. So this is the Rep’s own take on it, which, as usual, saves me a job:

Frederico Fellini’s Oscar-winning La Strada is one of the all-time masterpieces of world cinema.

La Strada ‘The Road’, a metaphor for life, is a deeply impassioned tale of love and loss. A journey into the heart of the Italian countryside where Gelsomina, full of the innocent spirit of youth, is bought by Zampano, a travelling street performer, to join his ‘strong man’ act. When the mismatched pair stumble across a ragtag circus and a daredevil tight-rope walker, Gelsomina finds herself caught between the two men, not knowing which way to turn…

Before the main feature, we were treated to a short film, The Vagabond, featuring Smethwick’s very own Charlie Chaplin!

Here’s some pertinent – and handy – photos from the Birmingham Mail website:


Michael Chaplin attending the unveiling of a memorial to the Romany Gypsy community in Smethwick, where his father Charlie Chaplin is believed to have been born.


The Black Patch in the 1850s.


Black Patch Park in Smethwick, thought to be the birthplace of comedian Charlie Chaplin.


It was not too far a venture this month for our monthly walk as we nipped over the border to Warwickshire and stretched our legs around the Studley area.

Here’s Stuart with the particulars:

Map: Explorer 220

Parking: Sports Centre car park, off Pool Road, Studley. Free parking and there are “award winning” toilets a short distance on at start of walk.

Grid reference: SP070636

Post code for satnav: B80 7QU

The walk:

I haven’t pre-walked the route yet but my route will be roughly south towards Coughton and then north west to Sambourne for lunch at The Green Dragon pub. An excellent pub, which serves well-kept Hobsons and Purity beers.

After lunch it’s east and then north to follow River Arrow back to Studley.

It was a nice, flat walk – none of that hilly nonsense. The Green Dragon pub was interesting in that it was a regular haunt for Brummie comedy actor Tony Hancock – his Mom having been the licensee for a few years.



Once more, I have plundered YouTube for this clip of Hancock delivering one of his more memorable skits: The Blood Donor bit:


Managed to catch the last weekend of the Francis Bacon exhibition – or rather last chance to see his painting, Two Figures in a Room, at the splendid Barber Institute. The painting was on loan from the University of East Anglia, and is the first ever to go on display at the Barber. Here’s the painting and the blurb from the Barber website:


This disquieting image from Bacon’s middle years features two naked figures, usually interpreted as male lovers, and was daring and provocative at the time of its creation, when homosexual acts in private between men were still illegal in the UK. Works by Matisse, Degas and Michelangelo have been suggested as sources for the two figures – and its display among the old master paintings of the permanent collection simultaneously suggests the debt and influence of historic art on modern painters.


February Fun and Frollix


After the quiet but very enjoyable heralding-in of 2017, there’s nothing quite like an Anthrax gig to open February.

The heavy metal/thrash band was in Brum at the Birmingham Institute and supported by equally impressive The Raven Age.

The Raven Age, an English metalcore band, provided a brilliant opening for Anthrax to follow with some scintillating guitar-shredding and bang-on drumming fronted by some dead-good vocal gymnastics (I’m awaiting a call from Classic Rock magazine anytime soon to review stuff).

Here’s some YouTube of The Raven Age:

…and here’s a musical cartoon from the Crow Collection:

ralphAnthrax were on form with a blistering set, as befitting a band whose reputation is already cemented in the big four quartet alongside Metallica, Megadeth and The Dooleys (actually, that last one may be Slayer).

Here’s an edited review from http://www.metalwani.com by Jack Toresen.

On February 9, 2017, I traveled the short distance to Birmingham to see Anthrax celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic 1987 studio album ‘Among the Living’. The support act for the tour was The Raven Age, a melodic metal band featuring guitarist George Harris, the son of Iron Maiden founding member and primary songwriter Steve Harris.

The Raven Age audience enthusiasm and participation definitely started off relatively minimal and grew continuously as their set went on. However, for an opening band I feel that The Raven Age did an admirable job of warming the crowd up for what was to come, although in circumstances such as these it is difficult when you’re playing before a classic 1980s thrash band.

Anthrax performed a variety of tracks that included “Madhouse”, “Evil Twin” and “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can’t”. “Among the Living” came next – the title track followed directly by “Caught in a Mosh” which is one of the best 10 minutes of live music I think I’ve seen in a long time, played to a room of people who knew every word to every song.

Just under two hours flies by when the band’s technical prowess as musicians as well as their undeniable enthusiasm as musical performers draws you in.

To conclude, Anthrax’s performance at the Birmingham Institute was very, very good. The Raven Age was a welcome opener, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again with Iron Maiden.

It was so good to see that they got the recognition they deserved on that night. If you’re seeing Anthrax this year, and especially on this tour, you’re in for a treat.



Anthrax proved to be a gentler emotional interlude than going to see Birmingham City beat Fulham 1-0 as part of Dave’s ongoing 50th celebrations. Dave was the half-time guest of honour and presented with a signed football shirt and stuff on the pitch. (Never mind Classic Rock – I should be writing for Four Four Two).




For my own more modest birthday celebrations, a crawl around the Jewellery Quarter did the trick, gathering in the Rose Villa Tavern and ending up with a highly-recommended Black Shack Chicken in the Church. That was lunch in a pub, not a sacrifice at the altar…



The February film on offer from the Flat Disc Society’s Film Club was a Swedish teenage lesbian romp, which garnered great reviews from Rotten Tomatoes website with a 90% liking on the Tomatometer and an unusually large club attendance on the night. The Critics Consensus: a naturalistic depiction of teenage life, Show Me Love has a charming, authentic feel.

Here’s the blurb from the Tomatoes: This coming-of-age comedy is set in a sleepy little Swedish town called Åmål — the most boring place on Earth according to adolescent Agnes. Agnes is not able to make friends at school. She’s in love with Elin, but no one knows about it except her computer.

A short film, Talk, preceded the main feature: Birger is old and retired from work. Still, he goes back to work since he has nothing else to do. Back home he gets a rare visitor: a girl from Hare Krishna recruiting new members. But his need for human contact proves to be overwhelming for the girl.

If my Aunt Florrie had called instead with her bible, it would have been a different outcome, you can be sure…


Which left a final weekend for a bit of a ramble in Mamble.

Mamble is a village in Worcestershire in the Malvern Hills district, somewhere between Bewdley and Tenbury Wells. It was also in the lower division of the Doddingtree Hundred – not a football league but a huge slice of land carved up during William the Conqueror’s day and handed to his standard bearer as a reward for bearing his standard during the Norman Conquest.

Nice work, if you can get it – a nice chunk of land for waving a flag.







All penned in

The poet John Drinkwater penned a poem about the village of Mamble, spookingly called Mamble:

I never went to Mamble
that lies above the Teme,
so I wonder who’s in Mamble,
and whether people seem
who breed and brew along there
as lazy as the name,
and whether any song there
sets alehouse wits aflame.

The finger-post say Mamble,
and that is all I know,
of the narrow road to Mamble,
and should I turn to go
to that place of lazy token,
that lies above the Teme,
there might be a Mamble broken
that was lissom in a dream.

So leave the road to Mamble
and take another road
to as good a place as Mamble
be it lazy as a toad;
who travels Worcester County
takes any place that comes,
when April tosses bounty
to the cherries and the plums.

The walk itself was brutally muddy but, in the tradition of all great rambles, it was bracing! Dragging ourselves through mud and sludge, over stiles and across fields, petting ponies and carrying little dogs. We trampled our way through the endearingly entitled little village of Neen Solars which, according to Wikipedia, boasts a phone box!


Gary to the rescue


Liz often needed a good defibrillating


A welcome lunch awaited at the 17th century Sun & Slipper Inn. No song set alehouse wits aflame but the excellent bill of fare had many cooing with delight – slabs of roast beef dinners and salmon steaks stuffed many a gill.