Happy Birthday dear Affie

Stephen Pennell goes to a special party.

Affie Jam and Friends,
Hare & Hounds.

I couldn’t smile wide enough when the very wonderful musician and blogger Affie Jam invited me to her birthday party at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath.

It’s been a while since I’ve been there (February ’79, UB40’s first ever gig – nah, not really, I just read the plaque commemorating it) and while the pub hasn’t changed much, the surrounding area certainly has – bigly and for the better.

The bit of York Road from the High Street to Cherry Reds – all 600 yards of it – has got: Top gig venues (five on two sites I believe); one of the best curry houses around; a highly rated tapas restaurant; Kitchen Garden Cafe and Fletchers; an old fashioned sweet and toy shop; the throwback of an independent sports shop; a vintage clothes shop selling things you’d actually want, including a room of Converse at half the price of the big shops; a record store that’s been there decades; independent electronics shops; a bloody haberdasher; a chippy that unashamedly boasts a three star (satisfactory) rating; a pet store parrot that will one day kill someone; and a roadkill festival every month.

All this is bookended by the Hare & Hounds and Cherry’s. And round the corner on the high street is What A Shake, which I highly recommend, and not just because the owner is my wife’s cousin and my beautiful sister-in-law Olivia works there. Honest.

Kings Heath is now so good it even has two lager and fighting pubs to keep real people away from us middle class types. It’s Birmingham’s Islington. In fact, Kings Heath is Moseley without the snootiness, mark-up, hen parties, estate agents, and puke puddles on the pavement. A genuine social and cultural mix of humanity of the kind that makes living in a city so damn good.

And something that makes living in this particular city so good is the rich seam of local musical talent I’ve been mining these last few months, and where I found pure gold in the shape of Affie Jam.

I jumped off the 50 when I saw one of tonight’s stars, Lumi HD, standing outside the pub in what looked like a deep meditational trance. I would have said hello but who am I to interrupt the pre-gig ritual of an artist? – a wise decision as she told me later she was indeed psyching herself up and was most annoyed when some clown clapped her on the arm and asked for directions. Instead, I got talking to an interesting character who told me an abridged version of his life story (including substance abuse and addiction), within five minutes of meeting.

I didn’t press him for details but was wondering why he was being so frank and open when his motives became clear as. He bummed a fag off me. I hope his problem wasn’t nicotine.

I headed upstairs to Venue 2 just in time to see Truemendous opening the show and simultaneously shutting it down with her hard bars, brilliantly constructed rhyming schemes, brutally honest narratives and ridiculously dexterous flow. She didn’t do her new joint Huh but trust me, it’s well worth checking out on YouTube (other platforms are available).

Suitably psyched up, Lumi HD was next to take the stage. I’d only heard her most recent work before, but she treated us to some real gems from her jazz-soul back catalogue. All the same, I let out an involuntary cheer when she introduced her last number, the familiar (to me) and irresistibly groove-laden Eezly. “Are you cheering because it’s the last song?” she joked, which I truthfully denied.

A word here for the audience. The packed yet intimate venue required the crowd to respect the different qualities of the artists; they danced, cheered and sang along in all the right places, yet you could have heard the proverbial pin drop when spoken-word artist Aliyah Denton mesmerised us with her profound, challenging, intelligent poetry.

Finally, it was the turn of the birthday girl to grace the stage. I’ve spent many lost hours enjoying her studio output on the internet, but that hadn’t prepared me for tonight’s set with an excellent full band, including the brilliant Birmingham music scene stalwart Reuben Reynolds on guitar. In this setting, the delicate flower one hears on Affie’s recorded output is replaced by a pocket dynamo, this previously-unheard voice now filling the room.

After opening with the Little Dragon cover, Twice, she gives a real powerhouse performance on her own songs Chasing Vulnerabilty, Naive and Babel, driven along by talented musicians, helped on harmonies by Jabez Walsh on backing vocals then Barbella on the gorgeous duet Lost and Found.

She’s joined by Tokoza and Eden on a cover of Jill Scott’s Golden, then Affie changes the mood and channels her inner Nick Drake on Put Aside, accompanied by her own intricate finger-picking on guitar. The band are back in full effect for a big finish in the shape of Affie originals Life and Dreams, two top tunes that hint at a promising new direction in a bigger, fuller sound.

It was a top night out, aided and abetted by an informative guided tour of the manor by my old mate Simon Page and drinks, giggles and sparkling conversation with my new mate Josh. When I wished Affie many happy returns I really meant it – as long as I get another invite.

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