Figure it out

Stephen Pennell witnesses another step towards global stardom for one of Birmingham’s finest.

Lady Sanity For Figures EP Launch,
Suki10c, Digbeth.

Organising my squad for this event was a logistical nightmare. I managed to book my last half-day of annual leave for a Friday evening – a rare concession involving a Faustian-pact that required me to do a full day’s work in half a shift. I really didn’t want the gaffer to know I could do that but needs must. I then had to overcome bad credit and even worse computer literacy to get e-tickets sent to my phone.

So after all that, my instructions for everyone to meet in Subside at 7pm seemed like the easy bit. Not for my lot – I was the first one there and drinking alone for a while in what was supposed to be happy hour. Cousin Mark’s train from London was delayed and my son Kurtis, still on his way home from work in Telford, was shocked to learn that the gig was tonight. “I thought it was next Friday ,” whined the chaotic overgrown teenager.

By 7.30 two more of my kids, Kirsty and up-and-coming Grime sensation Tydal, were still waiting for a taxi in Washwood Heath, while my mate Lee was waiting for a bus and freezing his bits off in Castle Brom. I knew the feeling, stood outside the boozer with only a wizened-old Hell’s Angel for company. This unholy alliance of Mod and Rocker were scanning Digbeth High Street for the latecomers, which was nice of him, if a bit futile, as he had no idea what any of my firm looked like.

First to arrive was Mark, who eagerly approached the bar to buy me a drink and pay me for his ticket until it dawned on him, after searching his wallet about fifteen times, that all his money was in the work gear that his brother had taken home to Handsworth Wood. Next to land were three of my kids (plus one girlfriend) who, being out with their dad, didn’t feel the need to bring any money. Now we were only waiting for my mate Lee, so I rang him:

“I’m here,” he said.

“I can’t see you,” I replied.

“I’m up the bar watching the Villa game on telly. We’re losing 1-0”.

“The football’s not on in here”.

“Oh perish it!” he said. “I’m at the Irish Centre aren’t I”. Except he didn’t say ‘peri’.

Five minutes later, mob deep at last, we headed towards the venue, down Allison Street and past Digbeth Police Station. I’d only been to Suki10c once before, and not from this way, so as a couple of coppers came out the back door of the clink I asked if I was going the right way. One stared menacingly at me as if I was asking for a knocking shop (try saying the name of the place fast), but luckily his more clued-up colleague gave us directions.

Upon entering the venue it soon became apparent that the great and the good of Birmingham’s urban music scene had turned up in numbers to show support. Namiwa Jazz, Truemendous and Janel Antoneshia were in attendance and there were others who were to be part of the performance.

First up Sanity was joined by Madi Saskia who, as well as being an integral part of Namiwa Jazz’s great band, has produced some beautiful music of her own recently. Sure enough she brought a whole heap of magic to opening number They Won’t Hear A Word and completely justified the equal billing suggested by the two mics at front and centre of the stage. Sanity went solo on vocal duties for Stuck and then on Just Us we were blessed with the spellbinding vocals of Elle Chante who went on to perform her own sensual and enchanting song The Midas Touch.

No Sanity gig would be complete without Yellow, her melancholic tribute to Birmingham – “It’s so special/when you get up in the ghettos” – and this was followed by the low-fi hip-hop of Blueprints and the diamond-hard bars of Future.

Making big waves lately with his raw style and political lyrics is local rapper Trademark Blud, and he was next to share vocals with the headliner. His modus operandi is to GO IN (as I believe da kidz say) and he didn’t disappoint as he brought fire to No Limits and left the stage to enthusiastic cheers from the packed house.

We were then treated to a couple of tunes from Sanity’s brilliant Summer in September mixtape, namely Bars For The Bin and Kinda Funny. It may have been a cold December night in Digbeth but songs from that collection always remind me of the New York heatwave that caused all the trouble in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

I was having too much fun to take notes so I can’t recall the song in which Sanity played the old Soul Train trick of parting the crowd to allow solo dancers the freedom of the floor. I do remember our Kirsty taking advantage and tripping over an acrobatic break-dancer behind her – we shouted a warning but she just thought we were chanting her name!

Local legend Call Me Unique helped keep the temperature rising, joining Sanity for a storming cover of Erykah Badhu’s On and On, and for a few delicious moments I almost convinced myself I was at an intimate early Fugees gig. As the fantastic backing band left the stage they were more than adequately replaced by the beat-boxing and guitar of Ed Geater accompanying Sanity on a haunting version of Found A Place, their brilliant recent collaboration.

The final phase of the show was just Sanity and her DJ performing Dreaming, Role Models, Can’t Say and Go The Distance. I’ve been listening to Role Models in the house for a couple of weeks now thinking it might be her best tune yet, and seeing the crowd reaction confirmed my suspicions. It has more of a Grime vibe than her previous stuff and it really suits her.

Show closer Go The Distance is also an absolute banger that had the place lit like a Christmas tree, and with that Sanity left the stage to a thunderous ovation. My grown-up kids certainly enjoyed it more than my little ones Amber and Lewis did when I took them to a free daytime Sanity show at the Bull Ring a few months back and Amber cried because it was too loud .

When I suggested getting the last bus because I had run out of money, my daughter Kirsty suddenly remembered she had some and we headed to the Night Owl for the unofficial after-party. Round every corner we passed huge crowds of people queueing up for places that looked more like drop forges than clubs, and I reflected on what a vibrant, quirky, talented city we’re lucky enough to live in.

We finally left the Owl at about 3am with Call Me Unique still throwing shapes on the dance floor. The DJs were playing classic hip-hop – and I’d heard plenty of that already from Lady Sanity.

The Villa drew by the way.