As anticipated in an earlier post, I pulled the plug on the Birmingham FearFest shortly after 7pm on Monday. Once I’d spoken to the guests, I began the process of refunding ticket monies (Eventbrite forces you to reverse every payment individually, almost as though the company was attempting to dissuade organisers from cancelling and thus voiding its booking fee); needless to say, it was not the most uplifting of experiences.
Usually, when I interview someone about a shared enthusiasm, it’s related to horror, science fiction or maybe comics, but my latest piece for Made in Birmingham TV took me to the home of John Ullah, ‘Grand Sheik’ of Laughing Gravy, the Birmingham ‘tent’ of the international Laurel & Hardy appreciation society the Sons of the Desert. As well as having a long and highly enjoyable conversation, the first part of which is due to air on Saturday evening, I actually got to touch a pair of Stan Laurel’s socks, which beats any variation of that Kevin Bacon game hands-down.
[Photograph by Chrissie Harper]
It’s four days since I posted about the Birmingham FearFest, during which time I believe we’ve sold one additional ticket. I’m giving it until next Monday before making a final decision, but it would take a major shift in reality for this event’s fortunes to turn around. We’re grateful to everyone who tried plugging it via their social media outlets, but it appears to have little or no impact. Then again, neither did a print in The Dark Side, back in mid-February, so traditional media seems just as ineffectual. It’s not just that I don’t know the answers, I’m no longer even sure what the questions are.
Saturday evening found me back at the Two Towers Brewery, but for once it was not the Birmingham Horror Group which drew me there but Czech Club Birmingham, which had invited me to introduce a screening of the 1977 time travel comedy Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem (aka Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea). You can see the footage on YouTube, though it would have been nice to have the use of a real time machine to fix my comment that Josef Nesvadba was born in 1912 (it was actually 1926, a year he shared with the first true science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories).
One of the long-term plans for the Birmingham Horror Group when it launched in December 2015 was for members to host an old-style horror event in the city, as opposed to the soulless, commercially-orientated merchandise and autograph fairs which have proliferated since “geek culture” became fully monetised. After all, what’s the point in hanging out with friends in a pub, discussing old episodes of Doctor Who or your favourite comics, when you can stand in line to pay £45 to be photographed next to John Barrowman (£10 extra if he wears his “Captain Jack” overcoat) or buy five versions of the same superhero reboot with different covers but the same identical Manga-style interior art? In fact, why even hang out with friends in the first place, when there are thousands of “friends” willing to give pretty much any passing comment a ‘like’ on Facebook?
Well, I believed there was still life in the original concept — and boy, does it look as though I was wrong. Running the monthly group has long ago ceased to be the fun it should have been, the erratic turn-out proving most “fans” are now only willing to show up if there’s some kind of gimmick, like a guest speaker or a free screening, and prefer to scurry back to the warm glow of their computer screens as soon as that part’s over. As for the Birmingham FearFest, ticket sales have been embarrassingly lack-lustre, and we’re currently facing the very real likelihood of having to pull the plug on its incubator. It’s been suggested to me that it could simply be postponed until later in the year, allowing a new round of publicity, but I’m not convinced I have a sufficiently deep reservoir of energy or optimism.
A little over thirty years ago,so many people turned up at a Novacon I chaired in Birmingham that we ran out of programme books, and we’d printed more than 500. These days, I find myself quite literally unable to run a party in a brewery. The world has allegedly evolved, but I’m not sure whether I want any part of this latest mutation; it clearly wants no part of me.
The latest of my reports for Made in Birmingham TV aired Saturday evening. the first half of a discussion with local rock musician Joe Dempster, whose band The Bloodthirsters has since supplied the theme tune for the first of Chrissie Harper’s and my Club Vamporama minisodes.
Other recent contributions to Birmingham News Weekend Magazine have featured Vamos Theatre (whose performers wear full-face masks), the producer and director of Worcester-based crime thriller Artichoke, performance duo notnow Collective, Birmingham-based space artist David A Hardy, Birmingham CAMRA chair Sally Lavender and award-winning licensee Brendon Daly (whose pub has already served as an ad hoc studio on three occasions). The majority are now available to view on our YouTube channel.
Clockwise, from top left: with musician Joe Dempster; with film-makers Fernando Antonio Maffei and Lawrence Donello; with artist David A Hardy; with performers Hannah Kimpton and Aron De Casmaker of Vamos Theatre.
I had the immense pleasure of interviewing my old friend Dave Hardy on Tuesday, with the footage (photographed by Chrissie Harper) to be divided between two separate programmes on Made in Birmingham TV. As I reminded him, the previous time I profiled Dave was way back in 1979, not long after I moved from the Walsall Observer to its sister title in Solihull (my home town, of course).
I’ve become somewhat of a regular fixture on Made in Birmingham TV of late, and Saturday saw my fifth report in a row for Birmingham News Weekend Magazine. The first two focussed upon the recent Blue Orange Theatre production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the next two featured extracts from Adam Nevill’s appearance at the Birmingham Horror Group, and the latest concerned a local pub being honoured by Birmingham CAMRA. In due course, all five will be available via YouTube.
Back in the autumn of 1993, I made several appearances on The Way Out, broadcast live on BBC Radio 5 each Friday night from Birmingham’s famous Pebble Mill studios. Shortly afterwards, Radio 5 was re-engineered beyond all recognition into 5 Live, ending my blossoming career as the show’s resident horror and science fiction pundit, whilst the studios were closed in 2004 and demolished the following year.
Anyhow, my rather busy Saturday began with a call from the regional station BBC Radio WM, so that morning presenter Mollie Green (no relation) could ask me about the Birmingham Horror Group, that evening’s guest appearance by Adam Nevill and plans for the first Birmingham FearFest. You can hear our conversation via the link above.
I guess the first appearance of Chrissie’s and my comic strip ‘The Lighter Side’ didn’t prompt readers to march towards the Dark Side offices waving burning torches like a scene from the 1930s horror movies we lampooned, because the January issue features our second collaboration, this time a nod to a more recent British classic.
It’s still early days, so any support from Dark Side readers is very welcome. You can contact the editor, Allan Bryce, via email@example.com.