Soul sister and friends

Stephen Pennell catches another blast from Birmingham’s best new talent.

BMA Christmas Party
Mama Roux’s,
Wednesday, December 18th

It hasn’t even been a week since the building blocks of modern Birmingham – innovation and diversity – were defecated upon from a great height by voters in the general election, and I’ve spent the early days of the new far-right government deleting people who voted for them from my socials.

Of course, they say it’s a secret ballot, but it ain’t just Mark Zuckerberg who knows you better than your family, just from your Facebook likes. So, as The Jam said in the number one hit that greeted the election of Thatcher back in the day, I’m Going Underground; withdrawing from the wicked new world into a comfort bunker of multi-national, multi-racial, multi-generational, cross-pollinated culture – or as I like to call it, Digbeth.

Here be Brummies, born and bred or adopted, gathered together to enjoy each other’s food, dance to each other’s music, bump each other’s fists and hold each other’s hands. It’s No Country For Old Tories and that suits me just fine. So, if anything can beat these post-election blues, it’s a combination of B5 and a Birmingham Music Awards party.

When these events began, free to enter and showcasing ten new local acts every month, pessimists said it couldn’t be done. But the organisers scoffed at the cynics because plotted up where they are, right in amongst the local music scene, they knew the talent was there in abundance, and every month so far (this is the tenth event) they’ve been proved resoundingly right.

It’s a music and networking opportunity par excellence; the place is awash with artists (whether they’re performing or not), making connections with sponsors, A&Rs and labels, rubbing shoulders with promoters, venue managers and music colleges; swapping socials with bloggers, vloggers and journos. It’s the Birmingham music version of the national grid, it’s hugely beneficial for any local act to be plugged in. Meanwhile, actually ON the stage, magic happens.

Life gets in the way of the six o’clock start time, hence I miss singer-songwriter Jessie Dipper and Dariusz Zaltash’s alt-rock Emo project Cellar Door, but I’m sure I’ll get round to them eventually. I arrive just in time to catch a powerful burst of North Parade’s set, and then it’s time for the two main reasons I’m here, instead of a hundred yards away at The Mill watching B-town behemoths Swim Deep and Jaws.

First, Kings Heath kids Flares smash out a five-song set with their customary panache, then fifteen year-old Lea Hall phenomenon T.Roadz shells the stage with his machine-gun grime bars and ridiculously dexterous flows. This teenage rampage tag-team is a hard pair of acts to follow, but if anyone can, Ruth Kokumo can.

She’s beefed up her sound since last I saw her by assembling The Ark, a five-piece band that could give the Black Eyed Peas lessons in diversity. There’s a Vietnamese girl playing the funkiest guitar this side of the Nile (Rodgers), an incredible bass player who brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘happy slapping’, a percussionist with more energy than a gallon of Red Bull, and a drummer and saxophone player who look and sound like they’ve been commandeered from The Commitments.

They’d be worth seeing even if they were Ruth-less, but thank the Lord they’re not. Her slender frame gives no indication of what’s to come, and she opens her mouth to unleash a voice direct from heaven, but with all the fire and brimstone of the other place. Mom and dad glimpsed the future when they gave her a biblical name, because this is a biblical performance, and it makes you wonder which Birmingham you’re in – UK or Alabama.

I only know one song, a cover of Ike and Tina Turner’s Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter (and it is), but I’ll be getting to know Ruth’s original numbers ASAP. Jools Holland would love her, and she’d go down a storm on at Mod/Soul weekenders in scooter rally season.

Other highlights include the wavy rhythms and slick rhymes of Mr Macee (pronounced Macky), his storming collaboration with the king of Kingstanding, Mayday, and Beasey, a more intense version of Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson, if that’s even possible.

Courthouse and their many fans who stay right to the death ensure the night ends on a high. Their set peaks with a Nina Simone cover that would have the high priestess of soul herself dancing in her grave, and thanks mainly to Ruth Kokumo and the BMAs and despite the fact that it’s a new dawn and a new day and a new, terrible government, I’m feeling good.