Grinding out a result

Stephen Pennell checks out the latest in a long line of young Birmingham talent.

The Grind Live,
Town Hall,
Saturday 6th April.

Like those football anoraks in the 92 club who obsess over visiting every single league club’s ground, I like to get round Birmingham’s legendary music venues as often as a decidedly non-rock’n’roll lifestyle will allow, and I’ve ticked most of them off the list already.

I was a bit too young to see Pink Floyd record half of the Ummagumma album at Mothers in Erdington, or Black Sabbath invent Heavy Metal at the Crown on Station Street, but I did see the Jam at Barbarellas and Dexy’s at The Rum Runner (okay, they were there on a night out rather than playing live, but it still counts).

I’ve also seen Lady Sanity at the Night Owl, Lady Sanity at the Flapper, Lady Sanity at Suki10c, Lady Sanity at the Hare & Hounds, and Lady Sanity at the Sunflower; in fact, if Lady Sanity was on in a working men’s club in Carlisle on a Tuesday dinner time I’d do my best to get there (whereas if Coldplay were playing in my back garden I’d draw the curtains).

So the prospect of the Queen of Brumtown hip-hop just a bus ride away in such an iconic venue as the Town Hall was irresistible to me, and it was her name on the poster that sold me the ticket. And I’m glad it did, because there was so much more to enjoy and discover on the rest of an extensive bill.

The Grind Live is a yearly showcase of the best in local soul, hip-hop, r’n’b, grime and spoken word and the show was opened by Casey Bailey, who performed a beautiful poem, completely unaccompanied and all the more moving for that.

Then it was Sanity time, purposefully positioned early in the night to ensure a healthy and enthusiastic crowd from the off. Resplendent in a Beat Girl dress and headscarf, (an emotional reminder for me of the sadly departed Ranking Roger), she laid down probably the best lyrics heard at this venue since Charles Dickens read from A Christmas Carol here in 1853. I was thinking more of Oliver Twist when she went off after two songs (“Please sir, I want some more”), but overall I was happy to hear one new banger, Beauty in the Struggle, and established favourite Firin’.

Infamous Dimez and his sensual, smooth r’n’b was next, and he’s definitely one to watch, although his final song probably comes with a parental guidance warning.

A live cypher, performed by volunteers from the crowd as well as tonight’s compère Vital, hinted at the amazing pool of talented MCs in Birmingham. The competition in the city is so strong it’s hellishly difficult to stand out, which is probably why the rappers that do, (Leshurr, Sanity, Jaykae, Mist, Truemendous) are so damn good. That said, Kingstanding boy Mayday and Vital absolutely shut down the show with their improvised bars, before getting into some light-hearted banter over Mayday’s pro-Birmingham speech, with Wolverhampton’s Vital responding with “Can we say West Midlands?”

The Town Hall has hosted premieres of works by Felix Mendelssohn and Edward Elgar, but it’s a fair bet that it has never seen the like of the next act Tanya Cracknell, aka The Grime Violinist. Classically trained, she now uses her finely-honed skills to add grace and melody to 140 BPM bangers. Not classical, but still class.

I’m ashamed to say that by this time I had been celebrating picking the winner in the Grand National a bit too heavily to take notes – I spent most of my winnings on Old Mout Cider – but I do recall that P Shand and C4 (brother of legendary U.K. garage producer Preditah) elicited a pretty wild response from the crowd.

The presence of a few dozen Erdington goons ensured that things got even wilder when headliner Yatez took the stage. The 24-year-old rapper-cum-r’n’b singer is North Birmingham’s answer to Jaykae, who he supported towards the end of last year at the Small Heath MC’s massive (for grime) hometown show at the Institute. Big trainers to fill, but he didn’t put a foot wrong on Saturday.

Opening number Moving On immediately had the audience singing along, and even the people I was with who’d never heard him before were impressed. Falling is another one with a big chorus, and this merged into the brilliant Top Striker, his latest release. Do For Your Love showcased Yatez’ talent for melody and high-speed rapping dexterity, as well as the beautiful voice of Chelsea on backing vocals.

There was only one way to finish – with the obviously heartfelt tribute to a city, Birmingham Crew – “We could end up in paradise/but this will always be my home”. A fitting end to the evening, as we were already (literally and figuratively) in Paradise. The decision, back in the 1830s, to build the town hall in Paradise Street instead of Bennetts Hill, had never made more sense.

The night ended on a personal high when a very well-refreshed and friendly gay man said I was “quite nice looking” and propositioned me on the bus home. As a deliriously happy married man I politely declined but if you think I’m commenting further on that after the fuss over my last review you’ve got another think coming.