7 January 2017

Birmingham - A brush with greatness!

How good it is?

Tony Iommi with choristers of the Birmingham Cathedral Choir
(Photo courtesy of Edwin Ellis Creative Media)

And it came to pass that....

I was attending conference at the Aston Business School in Birmingham (as one does) and I had spent a day or two gazing out of windows seeking images of this grand city:

Where vestiges of the old have been allowed to remain in the midst of the new:

Then, on Thursday evening, January 5th, I had a few minutes to spare.  It was either a cup of tea and a rest before dinner, or, as my friend Janet suggested, an opportunity to get a few pictures of New Street Station and what was left of the Christmas Night Lights.....

It was chilly, and the black evening seemed to seep down the walls, and smudge the street lights, but I made my way through the traffic on the James Watt Queensway and up Corporation Street, snapping as I went.....

I have never spent a lot of time in Birmingham - apart, that is, from hours of idleness on the motorways trying to get past it - and things have changed since I was last here, but there are some fine buildings, new and old, and this whistle stop tour was not going to allow me to get more than a flavour.... The Law Courts are empty,

The arcades too are quiet, with the traces of Christmas about to come down....

And people are hurrying home, or getting ready for a night out....

In one way or another....

I recognise the old National Provincial Bank on Bennett's Hill (the entrance with coffered ceiling and sculptured panels by S F Lynn, 1869, and, on the skyline, a shield of arms with flanking figures. Banking hall has a richly coffered ceiling and pairs of fluted Corinthian columns down the centre of the hall. Important corner site....) which, when I last visited, was a book shop, with a troop of Clog Dancers performing outside. Now it's a bar....

So, overcome with memories, I duck into the Wellington, (where in keeping with their love of tradition, they sell a huge range of snuff) and for a moment I pose as a lonely drinker staring into the empty fireplace..... 

But then, in search of the glowing stained glasses of Edward Burne-Jones, I venture into Cathedral Square. Lights on within St Philip's entice me....

And this is where the story changes. Something is happening here, though I know not what it is. There are wines on the table under the west tower, and photographers are packing up. As I suspected the stained glass windows look better when the sun is up, so I compose a shot of the holy family and their wise visitors then turn to go.


At this point I catch the bespectacled eye of a dark haired, bearded man, wearing dark clothes. 

We smile. 

He is in conversation with the golden haired Dean and so I don't want to interrupt, but, for a moment, I brush with the greatness of Tony Iommi, founder member of local band Black Sabbath, and one of the finest rock guitarists ever.....

Tony Iommi and the Dean of Birmingham, the Very Reverend Catherine Ogle

(Photo courtesy of Edwin Ellis Creative Media)

Tony Iommi was brought up in Birmingham. He met Ozzy Osbourne at school and together they formed Black Sabbath. In 2012 Tony became friends with Dean Ogle when he was struggling with cancer, and the friendship led to his wish to give something back to his native city. And so, with words based on Psalm 133, he has composed How Good It Is.

Tony takes enormous pride in his Birmingham roots and the recognition he receives in the city. So much has changed, he has said. The city is hard to recognise these days. There’s so much building work going on, it’s really great that the city is expanding and offering people more to do here. It’s different from my day.....

How Good It Is 
Inspired by Psalm 133 

How good, oh how good… 
How good it is 
Where friendship dwells 
How good it is 
When kindred live 
In peace and love 
How good it is 
When strangers meet 
And find a home 
How good it is, so good…. 
This is home, this is home... 
Our city, God’s city, our home…. 
So good, so good, together, so good… 

Catherine Ogle, April 2016

The track can be heard via the following link:

[If, by any chance, this link fails, then go to the Birmingham Cathedral website]

Alas! I have just missed a public play through of the new work.  Curses! But I have to hurry.  My mission was New Street Station, and then there's my conference dinner....

Once New Street was just a railway station... confusing, grey, dull. You came out to hear the bulls in the ring, in the rain. 

Now, it's huge. Dazzling.  Such a shame that HS2 won't stop here.....

So, I must hurry back, under the Bull Ring,

Past Selfridges (Selfridges Birmingham is one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks and the in-store experience is equally as show-stopping, with the latest luxury brands, designer arrivals and a global restaurant offering),

Past Marco Pierre White's English Chop House,

Past the old elegance of Moor Street Station,

And into the glass and steel glitter of Aston University,

Dinner awaits.  My scant hour is up. It was a fleeting glimpse of a city's heart, but worth it.  The following afternoon it is back to New Street for the pendolino to Euston (do we really need HS2?) and as we pull away I get a last glimpse of the sprawling city, once the home of everything that was made in Britain, now a confusion of service industries and traffic.  I haven't seen anything really - not the Jewellery Quarter, nor the Symphony Hall, the Museum and Art Gallery, the canals, Cadbury World, not even the statue of Tony Hancock (though I probably walked right past it in the dark).....

I will have to come back.  

Thank you Janet Pickering for sending me out.  And thank you Tony Iommi for bringing me in.

How good it is 
When kindred live 
In peace and love 
How good it is 
When strangers meet 
And find a home 

1 comment:

  1. The grain of the pictures seems entirely right - blurring the distinction between old and new streets.
    So what was the dinner like and did you pass the course?