Stephen Pennell ©
As a lifelong connoisseur of Birmingham’s finest hostelries and music venues, I may have shot myself in the foot somewhat by permanently moving to the night shift in my… erm… day job. Holidays are at a premium, especially Fridays, so I have to make the most of a rare outing. With that in mind I opted for a two-part affair, plotting up first for pre-match drinks at Channel 7, the new bar in the Custard Factory that everyone is talking about.
I got chatting to owner Cyrus and he’s a real bon viveur, as generous in spirit as he is with his spirit measures. Cyrus’ co-owner is Dylan Duffus - script-writer, movie-maker and leading man in iconic Birmingham gangster film One Day, so the joint has star-quality and a burgeoning reputation as the place to be. I’ve got a feeling I’ll be back soon to sample the appetising recipes on the day-time menu, so working nights is not all doom and gloom.
It was a fun start to the evening, but what got me scouring the holiday book for spaces was the stellar bill put together by AffieJam at Hockley Social Club, featuring her good self, Janel Antoneshia and Shanandan. It’s quite a mission on foot from the Custard Factory but it was worth every step, and anyway, taxis are hard to come by amongst the ruins of Digbeth High Street. Rumour has it that if you can make it on foot from Hennessy’s to The Rainbow there’s an army recruitment officer waiting to sign you up, but if you know your shortcuts to Hockley via the Gun Quarter it’s not quite SAS levels.
Affie was guest host in the absence of Call Me Unique, who usually runs this weekly event, once described as ‘the best night out in town - any town’. So a hard act to follow, and Unique was there anyway, able to relax and enjoy the show as a spectator for a change, and looking like she was thoroughly enjoying her busman’s holiday.
Affie took to hosting like a duck to water, and although at pains to point out her discomfort as compère she was her usual charming self and seemed to be in her element. She opened the show with two exquisitely realised covers - Azealia Banks’ Along The Coast and Alicia Keys’ In Common. This was an emotional moment for me as I’ve not seen her live since before the pandemic, so there was a real sense of life getting back to normal.
Next up was Shanandan, who gave us a heady mix of rap and RnB, slick beats and sick bars, backed by the excellent house band of Nathan on drums, James on keyboards and that stalwart of the Birmingham music scene Reuben Reynolds, switching effortlessly between guitar, bass and keys.
Janel Antoneshia, fresh from a successful run to the latter stages of The Voice on peak-time Saturday night telly, took to the stage determined to prove my theory that the show could have been named in her honour. She sang a couple of covers but it was her originals that really fired up the crowd. They included Dream Team & Feels and Broadway, before Foreign Land brought her set to a joyous conclusion, a celebration of diversity entwined with a call for reparations, both messages finding a supportive constituency within this audience.
It was emotional and I needed a break after that, time to order a hearty Black n Blue burger from Meat Meets Bun, grab a bottle of Rekorderlig and nip out for a vape. Hockley Social is the new venue of Digbeth Dining Club, so there were plenty of other excellent food options available, including Buddha Belly’s delicious Thai curry, a Greek kebab stall, a pizza place and a cheesecake joint - apologies if I missed anyone.
What can I say about AffieJam? As has been said many times, often by me, she is one of the coolest people around. She sings and plays guitar really well, writes good songs, illustrates, crafts, is a wicked skater, and has got moves like Jagger wishes he had. Calling her multi-talented is like calling Bezos a multi-millionaire. It’s correct, but we need a new word for multi.
As host, it falls upon her to wrap up the night. First she lets us in on a new direction for her sound with Dreams, in which she sings over hypnotic, electronic beats, and continues in a similar vein by covering Everything Everything’s Only as Good as my God. Next song Empty is another accomplished AffieJam jam and she brings the curtain and the house down with a cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit which, in my humble opinion, knocks spots off the original. A perfect and dramatic finale. The night’s theme was ‘no genre’ and Affie achieved that within her own set.
Try as I have, I can’t describe The Unique Experience better than they do themselves: “the city’s most diverse and exciting night of live music; every Friday night. New themes, new acts and new bands on with every visit, showcasing the best of Birmingham.” Add to that the best street food in Brum and you’ve got a pretty accurate summary. The theme next week is Pop, featuring the wonderful Eliza May. Don’t miss it!