Fly By Night

Posted on 31st July 2017

In the summer of 2015, there was an art project in and around Birmingham called The Big Hoot. It consisted of 90 large owls (The Big Hoot) and 108 little owls (The Little Hoot), sponsored by various businesses, communities, schools and artists, in aid of the Birmingham Children's Hospital (and two other charities), and was run by Wild In Art

The owls were mostly in open areas, so could be seen 24/7. However, some, particularly the little owls, were indoors. It did mean you had to choose carefully when you went hunting for the owls, as not all the places were open at weekends, even Saturdays, which is when the majority of people had time to take their kids out and about. With so many owls to find, and spread over quite a wide area (including Rainforest at Twycross Zoo), it wasn't a hunt you would be able to do in one day, which meant you could plan trips to different areas of the West Midlands to "collect" a small parliment of owls at a time.

Ethne and I downloaded the app, planned out several weekends worth of bus, car and walking trips, and went hunting. Mostly we used the bus and walked, particularly around Brum city centre, but you really did need a car to reach those owls a bit further afield. It was great fun, and although we got to see all the big owls, sadly we missed out on the small owls in Sutton Coldfield, as they were taken away before the end of the event for the big owls, as we hadn't been aware of the different deadlines for the little and big owls. 

The app was a great help, as in some cases some of the owls weren't in obvious locations, and the location map helped to show where we were in relation to the owl we were looking for. The rewards were mostly discounts for things we weren't interested in, but some we did get to enjoy. In particular many thanks to Best Western Premier Moor Hall Hotel and Spa, who gave Ethne and I each an owl shaped shortbread biscuit for finding the Love Owl. Definitely our favourite reward. That was the end of one particularly long day and we took the time to have a lovely cup of tea (for me) and a hot chocolate (for Ethne) as well.

Each owl had a QR code on the base to use with the app to mark the owl you'd found, and potentially unlock an applicable reward. It was a handy way to quickly check off the owls as you found them, but did mean you need the app and a mobile device that could recognise QR codes. As such, we did see several people resorting to pen and the Trail Map to tick them off.

Ethne and I didn't have one particular favourite, as there were far too many great owls on display. However, if I could have afforded it, I would have loved to have bid on Ozzy's Owl or Dr Whoot. Either would have looked great in our garden :) In the end, the auction of the owls raised £508,035 for three charities, the bulk going to Birmingham Children's Hospital, with £15,000 going to Edward's Trust and £7,800 going to Birchfield Harriers.

Despite the disappointment of not getting to see all the little owls, it was a great opportunity to travel to parts of Birmingham, and further afield, that we might not otherwise have done. It also meant Ethne and I both got to travel the full route of the No. 11 bus round the Birmingham Outer Circle for the very first time.

Below are our collection of photos of the owls, selfies and some extra scenic photos we took along the way. 

File Under: art / birmingham
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Run With The Wolf

Posted on 31st July 2017

Over the last 2 years since The Big Hoot, numerous art sculpture projects with animal statues placed in open spaces around cities have really taken off. This year, Ethne and I have hunted Hares, Bears and now Wolves. 

The Wolves In Wolves project has placed 30 wolves around Wolverhampton, one of which being a mobile wolf and moved to a different location each week. If we'd followed the routed detailed in the map, we would have walked roughly 4.5 miles. However, due to taking an outer then inner circle route, and a bit of back tracking too, we ended up walking 10 miles! It was a great day out, and we have to thank @wolvesinwolves and a couple of City Centre Ambassadors for pointing us in the directions for a couple of wolves. 

One disappointment was not being able to see Old Gold, the Wolverhampton Wanders FC wolf, up close as he was in the gift shop, which wasn't open when we walked the trail. However, the biggest disappointment was seeing the damage done to Flame (in honour of the West Midlands Fire Service) outside the Express & Star offices. It is really such a shame to see vandalisim like this, when these works of art are there to help raise money for charity, and to be enjoyed by everyone. As we walked around a man told us that Flame was hopefully going to be repaired, so I hope he is restored soon and left alone this time.

There were several wolves we thought were our favourite, until we saw the next one! Having said that, the one that really touched me when we saw it was Support Life. A very thought provoking design. All the designs were superb, and there wasn't one we didn't like, so congratulations to all the artists and designers who put all the effort into making the wolves.

One thing that was great about the project for us was that the exhibition of the little wolves, design by various schools, were all collected within the Wolverhampton Art Gallery in the centre of the city. 70 fantastic designs all in one room, together with the first two large wolves, saved a lot of walking and hunting. In another art project the location of little versions of the animals has proved far too time consuming and has distracted from the fun of hunting them.

Ethne and I had fun taking selfies (thank you to everyone who liked us on Instagram) of all the large wolves, as well as enjoying a good trek around the city. My pedometer told us we'd walked 10 miles back forth around the city, and while we could have taken some short cuts, I think we got to see more of the city on our route. We met quite a few people on the hunt for the wolves, with lots of young children eagerly hugging the statues.

It's a great day out, so if you're stuck for something to do with the kids during the summer, and fancy a day ambling around Wolverhampton (you really don't need to take as long as we did!), Wolves In Wolves is heartily recommended. There is also an extra mini-game for kids to play as they find each wolf, as several have a gold star with a letter on the plinth placque. Unscramble all the letters and you could win a prize of a mini wolf.

If you get stuck looking for Claude, the mobile wolf, check out the WolvesInWolves Pop-Up shop in the Mander Centre, or find a City Centre Ambassador to give you a hint. Apparrently he's usually close to the city centre, so you won't have to walk too far to find him. 

A little aside on our day was riding the tram from Grand Central to The Crescent. The station announcements on the tannoy system was read by Ozzy Osbourne. It was quite a nice surprise to hear him. It also made me wonder whether Wolves In Wolves might have missed out a few wolves, celebrating well known people from the city and surrounding area. Aside from many sporting heroes, there's Slade, Judas Priest, Robert Plant, Meera Syal and Caitlin Moran (author of Made In Wolves). Perhaps we'll see some of those on a future public art trail the city puts on :)

File Under: art / ethne / walks / wolverhampton
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Shadowplay

Posted on 30th August 2010

At the end of July, Dan and I went up to Macclesfield in Cheshire to see the Unknown Pleasures exhibition. Although the exhibition was billed as the life/work of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, it mostly centres on exhibits that focus on Joy Division. The exhibition itself was in two parts, firstly archive material surrounding Joy Division, then across the hallway, a collection of artwork inspired by Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The archives are fantastic, and include many items fans would have loved to have sat and read through for hours. The one aspect that was a little disappointing was the lack of photographs, particularly gig photos. The ones on show mostly focused on the two gigs. While they were great to see, it would have been wonderful to have had more on display. Though it did make me wonder whether there were any other photographs. In all the years since, I haven't seen that many more.

Ian died on 18th May 1980, and this exhibition, together with the other events that have taken place, such as the workshops, are all to commemorate 30 years since his death. It seems staggering to think it was 30 years ago, and to realise how much it affected me at the age of 14. Joy Division were always local heroes for me, as I was born 8 miles away from Macclesfield in Congleton, and later moved to nearby Holmes Chapel. Growing up in the aftermath of Punk, the new wave sounds that were centred around Manchester was a source of great inspiration for young teenagers. The fact that Joy Division (or at least 2 of them) were local, only added to their appeal.

As I was with Dan, I couldn't attend the Film Festival that was planned in the afternoon & evening, but it would have been interesting to hear from some of the people behind the band, including Stephen Morris. It's one thing to see the films and get a feeling of the events, but hearing the real experiences of the people involved is quite another. Sadly two additional people who helped to carve the history of the band, Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, are also no longer with us. I've met both, as well the members of New Order, over the years, and was glad that I was old enough to appreciate those times in the late 70s/early 80s.

After the exhibition Dan & I took in some of the sights of Macclesfield, particularly those relating to Ian and Joy Division. The Exhibition was selling a special map to help guide people to some of the landmarks, which helped to provide a bit more background information, particularly for the rehearsal rooms and gigs they hung out at. The Heritage Centre, also known part of the Silk Museum, is primarily a centre for the town to reflect on it's history of being part of the Silk industry. The Heritage Centre itself used to be an old mill. You can still see evidence of this around the town, and one of the days I may get back again, and photograph some of those sights. However, for this trip we used the map to pinpoint the musical history.

Our first stop was along from The Heritage Centre, towards the town centre, to Duke Street. Krumbles Night Club was the venue of the first Joy Division gig. It has since changed hands several times, and changed names, and I did wonder whether anyone these days still puts on gigs there, as from the outside it just looks like a regular disco. We walked through the arcade of Dukes Court onto the main street. Although there are other haunts the band once took in nearby, we choose to head off to our next destination.

Next we headed to 77 Barton Street. If you've seen the film Control, the exterior shots of the house, are the actual house, as is the Labor Exchange where Ian used to work. It wasn't until I watched Control again recently, that I noticed that they had tried to convey just how close his house was to where he worked. Barely a few minutes door to door walking. That's one of the nice things about being able to come here and see for yourself, you get to see the reality of it, the history of the town. You also get to see the views of The Pennines to the east and north.

I met a guy who had brought his daughter along, as I had done with Dan. It turned out like me he hadn't got to see the band live, though he was 18 when Ian died, I was just 14. We both commented that being 30 years ago, why there wasn't a plaque or something, but I suspect the current owners would rather not have one. I guess they can tolerate fans taking pictures every once in a while, but didn't want to draw too much attention to the house.

We then headed around the corner to the Labour Exhange. Although the building looks to be unchanged, it's no longer a Labour Exchange, and now appears to be a centre to help local businesses. Again if you've seen the film Control, the exterior of the building is used, with the more modern signs replaced with old ones.

Our next location was intended to be the rehearsal rooms the band once used. Unfortunately the location provided on the map is a bit confusing. As such, I think the new school buildings we found next to The Weston pub are more likely to have been the site of the Hall, replacing it in more recent years. We then went to look for the next rehearsal rooms on the map, The Talbot pub. Initially I was looking for a pub, and although we found a couple, they didn't quite fit the location marked in the guide. Pulling over, I read a little more closely and discovered the roundabout we'd kept passing was the original site of the pub. It had been knocked down to make way for one the new roads around the town.

Eventually we headed for the Macclesfield Crematorium. The crematorium itself also has very personal memories for me, as well as being the place where Ian was cremated. My sister Jacqui, as well as Floss, who would have been my Great Aunt had my Nan's brother not died in the war, were both cremated here too. The cemetary and the Garden of Rememberance are both very peaceful places, and even though we saw several fans coming to visit the curbstone, it always felt respectful. It didn't feel sombre either. Those I spoke to had more to say about Ian's life than his death, which is how it should be. I was quite surprised to see most of the fans were actually quite young, most being in their 20s, and two needed their mum and dad to drop them off. It does seem that Joy Division have indeed reached a new audience, one that wasn't even born when Ian died.

On our final journey round the town we took in King's School, where both Ian and Stephen attended, together with The Travellers Rest. The Travellers Rest was another pub that was frequented by music fans and featured gigs. Warsaw asked if they could play here once, but were told they should get a record deal first.

It was a good day out, and nice opportunity to celebrate a life that has touched so many people. Joy Division are one of my most listened to bands over the years, and despite such a small catalogue compared to others, they managed to produce a wealth of great songs. For Ian, Closer was a disaster, and from experience I've seen other bands feel extremely disappointed with the results of a recording immediately after the sessions have finished. However, it's only later that the realisation that you've produced something special becomes apparent.

I've been back to Cheshire regularly since I left, but don't often make it as far as Macclesfield. I'm glad I took Dan with me this time, as aside from giving him a sense of my history, he hopefully has some memories that will bring Joy Division to an even younger audience.

"To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you"

File Under: art / museum / music / sightseeing
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This Is The Picture

Posted on 4th February 2008

Sometimes you come across an artist that just truly amazes you with their talent. In todays Metro free newspaper there was an article on Juan Francisco Casas, who creates photo-like quality drawings using only a blue Bic biro. The drawings/paintings are staggering and I can see why he has gained recognition for his work. His noteriety began when he submitted a drawing to national art competition in Spain in 2004, and won second prize. He has been asked to come over to the UK to display his work, but he's can't at the moment as he has managed to sell every one he's done! I'd certainly be interested in seeing the work in real life, although I don't expect I will be buying any, as I have my own live-in artist ;)

For me what is perhaps most refreshing is that Juan quite obviously has real talent, and not some pretentious view on art. I'm not a fan of people who claim to be creating classic works of art just by splashing paint at the canvas. Yes, it's interesting and some times very pleasing to look at, but I think Ethne has more real talent in her art work than anyone able to throw a paint pot around. Ethne can even do that too!

I hope Juan Francisco Casas becomes as celebrated as he deserves, as it's about time that some real artists got a bit of notoriety again. Which reminds me, I must sort out Nicole's website :)

File Under: art
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