NOT NORMAL NOT OK: Safe & Sound @ ACM Birmingham 28.11.19

Words & pics by Genevieve Miles

As part of their enrichment programme at the end of 2019, the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) in Birmingham hosted a special Safe & Sound event on Thursday 28th November – presenting a day of seminars and activities about safeguarding within the music industry.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK were invited to open the event, with the campaign director, Ed King, asked to talk to ACM’s students about the sexual violence, aggression, and manipulation they might face – with all of ACM’s students focused on a career in music, be it on stage of off, this was an opportunity for the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign (which champions the strapline ‘from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play’) to reach a directly relevant audience.

Talking about the ongoing sticker campaign, where NOT NORMAL NOT OK attend live music events and distribute campaign logo stickers to everyone playing or partying at the gig, King was keen to encourage ACM students to embrace a visible stance against sexual violence. The NOT NORMAL NOT OK sticker campaign has been prevalent at venues across the region, creating a clearly branded environment of ‘no tolerance’ towards sexual violence at gigs, and King was eager to see the message carried by those entering the music profession.

“If we can get ACM’s students, and everyone making their first inroads into the music industry, to start confidently having the conversation about sexual violence, manipulation, and coercion, then it can have a trickle up effect as their involvement in music increases,” explains King.

“There’s a long standing and embedded culture of sexual aggression in the music industry that we need to combat, one that has been quietly abusing people across the industry for decades. But if new music professionals embrace the idea of no tolerance towards sexual violence, that will hopefully grow with them and help to change the industry landscape as a whole. It also sets a clear precedent, from the start, as sad as it is that we might need to reafirm one, on what is acceptable to those who might find themselves becoming aggressors.”

Working with a range of music promoters and artists, some less supportive than others to the campaign message, NOT NORMAL NOT OK is hopeful that with a changing of the guards these dangerous and old fashioned views will eventually die off. It is worth remembering that rape within wedlock was only made illegal in the UK from 1991 onwards.

Christopher East, Designated Safeguarding Lead at ACM – who helped organise Safe & Sound alongside Vix Perks, the Wellbeing Mentor & Mindfulness Coach at ACM Birmingham – feels it is the institution’s ‘duty’ to offer these seminars and events: “it is our duty of care to raise awareness and equip our students as best we can,” explains East – further citing the importance of being “proactive rather than reactive when it comes to tackling the many challenges that we face in society and our personal lives.”

Mirroring the direct approach and attitude of the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, East’s hopes were that ACM’s Safe & Sound events will encourage their students to be “assertive, empowered and vigilant,” which would, in turn, help prevent students from “falling into dangerous situations within their respective career paths.”

Also speaking at the ACM Safe & Sound event was Tanuja Patel from the Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid organisation – bringing the gender diverse audience into a strong discussion around safe spaces for women. Just as with King and the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign that preceded Patel’s presentation, it was encouraging to see such confident engagement from ACM’s student body. The day was rounded off with a Krav Maga workshop, demonstrating the combined fighting system and offering simple tips on physical self-defense.

I was also invited to perform a few songs from my own portfolio, taking the stage once the dust had settled from the two seminars that began the day – giving me a chance to represent the musicians who want to support and see positive change.

As a performing artist, it seems necessary that a campaign such NOT NORMAL NOT OK would be at the ACM Safe & Sound event; it is so relevant to these young music lover’s lives, the venues and promoters targeted by the campaign are where the students at this event will be punters or where those in the room who aspire to be artists will one day be performing.

But this doesn’t stop in the classroom – in recent years, well known artists such as Frank Carter have interrupted their own gigs in order to call out sexual assault from within the crowd. This absence of shame or shyness can only be empowering to the no tolerance movement, encouraging young people, such as the students at ACM, to be more vocal as they build a career in the music industry.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play. To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, visit

For more on the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) Birmingham, visit

FEATURE: Life’s a drag at Birmingham Pride

Nora Virus at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Words by Eleanor Sutcliffe & Ashleigh Goodwin / Pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe

I am not a very social individual.

Approaching strangers for a conversation has always been a fear of mine; the idea of forcing myself to interact with someone whom I have never met fills me with unspeakable dread. I’m the type of person who crosses the road to avoid conversation. It’s ridiculous. Which is exactly why, as I walk hastily into Birmingham Pride, I wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m here to talk all things drag with Pride goers, which involves a lot of approaching strangers. Too much for my liking. But I’m eager to learn more about the drag community and where’s a better place for that than Birmingham’s Gay Village during Pride weekend?

Aside from a handful of shows I’ve covered for Birmingham Review, the drag I’m used to is what you see on the Internet – polished queens posing for photos in their finery, wigs coiffed to perfection, lip-sync routines performed with choreography and backing dancers. Indeed, Ashleigh and I are covering RuPaul’s Werq the World Tour at the Symphony Hall in only a matter of hours. But I suspect there are sides to it I’m missing – a much more intimate layer to drag that, especially if I’m going to start covering it properly, I need to learn. It feels like I’m back at school all over again.

Dixie Normous at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeWe spot a drag queen posing for photos with the public, towering over them with a purple wig and sparkly dress. For Dixie Normous drag is a form of release, “I had a problem drinking and had to get away from the gay scene and I didn’t know how to get back in,” she explains, adjusting her wig. “Now, I’m eight years sober and it helped me return to it. I don’t perform in Birmingham, I’m not a working performer, but I work for pride events such as these, hostess events, DJ events.

Does she feel that there’s any competition in drag these days? Normous shakes her head, “No. I have friends who do drag as performers, they love performing but there is no competition between them. She pauses momentarily, “I mean, there is competition in the form of lip-syncing but it’s not malicious. I take my hat off to them, they sing for seven days a week and they say the same to me – there is mutual respect, there’s loads of work out there. Work seems to be growing for drag in the UK – are popular programs such as RuPaul’s Drag Race partially to credit for this? “RuPaul’s Drag Race shows a different type of drag from the UK scene – I grew up on different things,” she gestures to her beard. “Like, I don’t want to sacrifice my beard and UK and USA drag can be quite different, drag is quite feminised there. I’d never get away with this and my tattoo. A group of Pride goers run up, cameras in hand, and I know it’s time for us to leave, but not before Normous gives us a hug, a kiss on each cheek, and sees us off with a graceful wave of her hand.

Nora Virus at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeAlready I’m feeling more confident, and we weave our way through the crowd towards the Main Stage. Towering over everyone in eight-inch red heels and clad in what appears to be a skin-tight interpretation of my grandmother’s chintz curtains, Nora Virus is hard to miss. She’s on her way to perform with Glitter Shit on the Main Stage but is more than happy to stop for a quick chat. Judging by the crowds here at Pride, does she think that Birmingham’s drag scene has grown? “It’s definitely grown, not just in terms of drag but the whole queer scene has within the last five years or so,” she exclaims, posing against a backdrop of apartment buildings while I grab a few photos.

Nora Virus‘s type of drag isn’t what we typically see commercially. I ask how she feels about this and she shrugs, it’s a mixed response, “The media… it only contains certain types of drag… and you can be whoever you want to be, that’s what’s missing. It depends on what viewers get from it. If programs like RuPaul’s Drag Race open the door to drag, then it’s performers like us on the other side who are ready to educate the masses.” I’m aware she’s running out of time and her friend, Liam, directs us to a man behind us who is nursing a pint with a few friends. Paul McAvoy is the general manager for Holy Trannity, one of the biggest drag event organisers in the UK. If anyone is worth talking to, it’s him. We wish Virus luck and off she bounds, a foot taller than the crowd she’s wading through.

Liam’s right – McAvoy is more than happy to talk shop, despite today clearly being a day off. “We organise a lot of the drag queen events across the UK, especially the acts from RuPaul’s drag race,” he explains, sipping on his pint. “Drag’s growing throughout the UK, it’s not the normal kind of thing shown on TV, not the normal hosted stuff, it’s a different type of reality. More exciting and scandalous than what the public are used to.” And he’s right. Watch any episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and you’ll see what I mean – tensions grow so thick you could cut them with a knife, and tempers flare on the regular between queens and judges. We chat more about drag and he mentions some exciting stuff that we can’t print (yet). We realise he’s working at the Werq the World show later and bid him farewell, promising to catch him at the Symphony Hall – I don’t want to take up any more of his time, especially as he’s been so patient with us.

Paul McAvoy at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeBy now Birmingham Pride is heaving, and the bustling crowd has us feeling knackered. We set off towards the seating area and plonk ourselves down opposite a couple who are in the middle of a heated debate. It seems opinions on drag aren’t reserved to the performers themselves, as we question partners Liam and Chris. “Drag now is mostly RuPaul and that’s not drag!” exclaims Liam, throwing his hands in the air. “If you’re a supporter of drag you know your local acts, not just the famous drag queens. They have a habit of falling into the commercial pit; it’s become an act now where you just have to put a dress on and boom, you’re a drag queen. I push for him to elaborate.

“So, for example, Charlie Hides used to perform at Eden before she went on RuPaul. She was a local queen through Birmingham, London and Bedford and since she has been on RuPaul suddenly she’s charging double. It pushes out the local scene – like, don’t forget where you come from, don’t forget your roots. The queens will throw everything into their fame and they will fizzle out… RuPaul is like the drag equivalent of X Factor, and who remembers the last winner of X Factor?” I can’t even remember the last time I watched it, let alone who won. He nods earnestly, his point proven. “The RuPaul generation, to describe them like that, are keener on watching drag through a screen on TV as opposed to seeing it live. They see a very polished version, not what drag really is.”

So, what does Liam think makes a drag queen? He pauses momentarily, clearly deep in thought. “I think when you look at artists like Myra Dubois, she delivers everything in a political way, she speaks about everything that is going on in the world and it’s how you make the most of your platform. These days anyone will put on a dress and lip-sync for 20 quid, the acts are more in it for the fame. There’s a lot of old school drag that is getting pushed out and people aren’t getting a sense of what it was before.”Liam and Chris at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe My mind flips back to Normous and I curse myself for being so ignorant. Of course there are different styles of drag, why haven’t I noticed this before? And if the industry is so difficult to break, why are local queens doing it in the first place? “So, some queens will be spending double of what they earn, they’ll be doing back to back shows and it’s the reason why you do anything that you enjoy – you do it because you love it. Despite the long hours and all the misconceptions, you get with it. You love your job, and when you love your job it’s not work.

I think about my job as a photographer, and the nights I spend editing when I could be working a ‘real’ job, and finally I find ground where I can relate. Clearly there’s some real local talent I’m missing – who can Liam recommend me to watch? “So… Sandra, Danny Beard, Mary Mac, Viva Vivacious,” chips in Chris. “I think if you want to discover new drag in Birmingham, you should search for Eden on Facebook – the content they deliver on weekdays, on Thursdays, is great. Garry and Cal really know how to work their venue. I run a venue in Bedford that puts on drag acts called The Barley Mow, so I’m always looking for new talent”. I make a mental note to head to Eden on my next Thursday off, and to organise a road trip to Bedford with a few friends during the summer months.

By now we’ve been talking to the boys for over half an hour and we leave them to their pints before heading back off into the hub of Pride. We pass numerous dance tents filled with barely-clothed individuals performering inverted-apex-god-knows-what on stripper poles, and I can’t help but crack a smile. Pride is where people can be completely at ease. It’s a novel feeling.

Michelle (Umbrella Health) at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

At this point, Michelle speeds past in rollerskates, flinging rainbow condoms at anyone who will take them. She looks amazing, and I can’t help but snap a photo of her. She’s here with Umbrella Health, who provide free, confidential sexual health services across Birmingham. “We just usually hang around by the entrance, and hand out free stuff, answer questions… everyone is usually chilled out and happy,” she exclaims, filling my arms with pens, lip balms and yet more condoms. “We see a lot of drag queens come through, we always try and get a photo with them. I’m actually going to Werq the World later, I can’t wait!” She flashes a smile and skates off, a woman on a mission. Things to do, condoms to fling.

A trend seems to be emerging here – those who are fans of drag lean towards the commercial side we see on TV, while those who are actively involved in the scene tend to view the commercial side with weariness. The more we speak to people, the more I think that mainstream media is dispelling the truth that drag has roots that run much deeper than the odd TV series. It’s a large, complex community that deserves more recognition and exposure than it’s getting.

I spot local performer, Paul Aleksandr, having his photo taken with a gaggle of visitors. Draped in what looks to be the dismembered corpse of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I have them pose up against a fire truck while I snap some photos. They’ve just come off tour with Adore Delano with Drag Punk – how did they find it? “I know there is this stereotype of ‘millennials’ and they are given a bad reputation,” explains Aleksandr, “but millennials are passionate people, they shouldn’t be dismissed because of their age. The shows with them were immense… one of the people that was there has come to Pride with us today, she’s only fourteen,” they exclaim, gesturing over to a girl bedecked in a long, pink wig. The fan base for Delano’s shows seems to be much younger than I anticipated. I catch the girls eye and ask to interview her next – she nods with glee before posing for more photos with the public.

Paul Aleksandr at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Did Aleksandr find approaching members of the pubic hard at shows, or is it a skill that comes naturally? “It’s organic, if you do drag people talk to you – it’s a platform, it’s pushing people to do their thing,” they explain. “It’s not just a lip-sync but making a statement about important topics such as misogyny and empowerment. It’s a form of education, especially when some fans are this young – they can’t go to local shows as they’re all 18+.” Should drag be reserved for certain individuals of a certain age, or should it be open to all? “In the last four or five years, drag has become accessible to everyone. Gender is tied to identity and drag is a way to spearpoint identity. In the 80’s queer identity died for multiple reasons, and now you can build something with drag. Performers are responsible to educate the masses, especially on what we lost back then”.

Do they feel Birmingham Pride is inclusive for everyone who wants to explore drag including women? Aleksandr‘s hands fly up in the air animatedly, “Of course! Like, who the fuck cares if you have a clitoris – stop thinking about their genitalia! Out of like 16 venues participating in Pride, there is only one owned by a women. There can be issues within the community such as racism, transphobia and ableism… we should be aware to that.” If there are still issues of exclusion across the community, how does the social hierarchy affect those within it? “If you’re a lesbian you’re sidelined. If you’re bisexual you don’t exist. If you’re anything but white and gay, to fit in you try and be flamboyant, to mould yourself into what is deemed socially acceptable.” I look lost, so Aleksandr simplifies it, “the white cis gay man is in a nice mansion on the top of the hill but if you’re trans black woman then your house is burning down”. Ah, that makes sense. Horribly.

I must be looking slightly crestfallen at the entire thing, so Paul Aleksandr directs me to Rosary Bee and Amber Cadavarous. I recognise Cadavarous from the recent Drag Punk Candyland event at The Nightingale, as well as a Facebook video that went viral a few months ago where she explained her place in drag as a woman – honestly, before I saw it I had no idea women could even do drag. And it seems I’d be easily forgiven for this. “Trans women invented our drag,” explains Rosary Bee, “it’s very Shakespearean and the night life scene contributed to its growth. Women have always been in drag – it just hasn’t been documented.Amber Cadavarous and Rosary Bee at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe I mean, history was documented and created by guys and they chose what they wanted to be seen.” For a 14 year old Bee is educated beyond her years in drag, and defends her position to the hilt. It’s amazing to see, and that she’s so passionate about it. Bee explains how she looks up to Amber Cadavarous as she is also a woman, and how they met at one of Adore Delano’s shows before meeting back up at Birmingham Pride.

Amber Cadavarous is everything I imagined her to be – from her silver shiny boots, right up to the exaggerated bow in her hair that depicts the phrase DYKE in big, black letters. She’s patient and friendly while I question her on everything drag – especially their decision to bring Bee to Pride in drag. Does she think there should be age limits on it? “I agree there should be age limits, maybe, as there is sometimes a lot of adult content,” explains Cadavarous. “It shouldn’t be mutually exclusive though – there should be a space for young adults and below to explore drag. I used to sneak into clubs to watch drag performances. It helps you figure out who you are in regards to things such as your sexuality and gender – especially for women”. Does she feel that this could be possible in Birmingham?

“The scene is very inclusive in Birmingham in general. It’s welcoming and very diverse and I never felt like I couldn’t do drag here. I never asked for permission and I didn’t feel excluded, I found my family here,” her eyes dart to back Paul Aleksandr and Rosary Bee. “I wanted to educate and uplift women, and use my platform to support them – queer women especially. When we recently supported Adore, a lot of kids came up and said I didn’t realise I could do this, but you can, my love! I received a lot of messages saying this and seeing them realise they could do it was a wonderful feeling”.

We’ve been talking for so long that we fail to notice the sky turn an ominous grey, and rain soon starts to fall heavily. Hastily saying goodbye, Ashleigh and I dart through the crowds, finding refuge in the Main Stage tent with thousands of others. We spot two drag kings sheltering under the eaves of a food van; Adam All is in his trademark purple suit, while fellow performer Oedapussy is dressed like a Viking warrior, adorned in countless blue flowers. They look incredible.

I ask for a brief rundown on drag kings. “So, drag is much bigger than it used to be, the concept of drag king started in 1867 and it started underground with male impersonators on stage”, Adam All explains. “We didn’t have much of an uprising until the early 1980’s and 1990’s, now we have women’s bars and it’s really helped promote it in the last ten years or so. The number of drag queens is around the 100’s in the UK but when I started there was only a handful of us – here in Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Now it’s all over the place in the UK. Drag kings are popping up everywhere and it’s constantly gaining momentum”. What’s to credit for the growth?

Oedapussy and Adam All at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe“Social media helps,” exclaims Oedapussy, “in London there are mixed shows and we go to see some queens and there is more of a crossover. Also, drag in general is becoming more acceptable, this has never really been covered before, like women doing it”. They’re right too – I was surprised to see women as drag queens. Having now seen two drag kings in the flesh, my mind is blown. I wasn’t wrong about needing a little education.

By now what was a slight trickle of rain has become a monsoon type downpour. Ashleigh wearily eyes my camera, and we realise we must make our way up to the Symphony Hall. We stagger out of Birmingham Pride and I bundle us into an uber, our clothes soaked, laughing at our misfortune. Only we could get caught in a downpour like this before a show.

I imagined leaving the festival with our carefully composed questions all answered. Instead, we’ve now got so many more to ask and clearly it’s going to take longer than a few days at Birmingham Pride to answer them all. But the warm welcome and engaging response we got from the drag artists we talked to, and the crowds buzzing around them, was infections – embracing us into a wonderful and creative world, but one with something serious to say. You couldn’t help but feel part of something. Even to a social recluse like myself.

For more on Birmingham Pride, visit

FEATURE: One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review




ED’S NOTE… Birmingham Review would like to thank Mark Shiel and Sarah Aggarwal for all their hard work and compassion that went into this memorial; we would also like to thank the NEC Group and Barclaycard Arena staff for hosting and supporting this event. As Birmingham Review’s editor, I further would like to thank Eleanor Sutcliffe and everyone who talked to her at the One More Light memorial – allowing us to commemorate Chester Bennington in the words that matter most, those from his fans. Much love.

Words & pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe

I’ve never been to a stranger’s funeral.

The death of Chester Bennington shook the music world to its core, and for good reason. Linkin Park were credited with bringing nu-metal to the masses following the release of Hybrid Theory in 2000 – an album that was nominated for three Grammy awards and sold over 24 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful debuts of the 21st century.

‘In The End’ was a song that stuck with me throughout my teenage years, and although I found other bands along the way I could always listen back to Linkin Park‘s material. They were a constant source of new music too; a foundation for me to build my love for rock and metal upon. So when I heard that there would be a memorial service held in Birmingham in honour of the late singer-songwriter and Linkin Park front man, I felt compelled to attend.

I’d been advised by the event organisers, Mark Shiel and Sarah Aggarwal, that New Street was the best place to meet before heading to the official memorial site – the Barclaycard Arena, the last venue that Linkin Park played prior to Chester Bennington’s death. Spotting them and their group was easy enough as almost every one of them was wearing some form of Linkin Park merchandise. I was shocked at the number of people; it was still early and many more fans were expected at the arena.

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham ReviewIntroducing myself to Mark and Sarah I was greeted with smiles, hugs, and thanked for coming. Watching them it was soon clear that I wouldn’t have a chance to pin them down for an interview as they were constantly checking in with fans and were inundated with phone calls from others that were soon arriving. Sarah announced that we would be leaving for the arena and, after mentioning I knew of the whereabouts, I was soon tasked with leading the group up. I was surprised that the organisers and fans were so trusting of me.

Venue security met us outside the Barclaycard Arena and, after assuring us to take as much time as we needed, led us up the steps. Conversation began to fade and soon it was silent; individuals started to walk forward, flowers in tow, heads bowed and tears falling.

The idea of speaking to fans at this moment felt wrong. However, by simply watching I saw enough. Some sat and cried alone, while others huddled in protective groups, holding hands and whispering condolences. Flowers, drawings and letters were all laid with care; notes, hastily scribbled onto pieces of card handed out by Sarah, were tucked under photo frames and into bouquets.

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

After laying a bunch of white roses, I sat next to a woman and asked how long she’d been a fan for. She shook her head and laughed softly, telling me she’d been listening to Linkin Park since probably before I was born, “I can remember watching the video for ‘Papercut’ on TV, before YouTube even existed, and thinking what is this? Who is this? And I was hooked”. I asked how she felt the band had helped her personally, and she started to cry. “They were incredible. They could put into words how I was feeling before I even knew. They were always there for me to rely on, and for others to rely on too – an army of bands and musician stand on their shoulders. I just can’t understand how, when they were always there for us, how no one was there for him.” It was clear the other fans felt the same.

What shocked me was how personal this memorial was. As I wandered between groups of people, I heard fans openly explaining how their lives had been influenced by the Linkin Park’s music. Many people did not want their photos taken, but only to write letters to the late Bennington or to sit quietly and simply listen to Linkin Park‘s music.

One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham ReviewHowever those that did share their thoughts and feelings with me did so at length. One man I spoke to explained how he felt that Linkin Park provided “a voice for the voiceless”, and even recognised them with saving his own life. Another credited their success as a musician, along with that of their friends, to the late Bennington. Fans spoke to me about their battles with depression, abuse, or the death of family members, and how discovering Linkin Park helped them confront their fears and learn to live again. For many, Linkin Park’s music was more than melodies and riffs – it was a sanctuary, a safe place in which fans could lose themselves and heal.

When I took on this job I did not expect to feel as emotional as other fans; I was there to report, to capture the event and then leave. However as time went on I found myself faltering. I never thought I would be so upset over someone whom I’d never met, and yet there I was hiding my tear-stained face behind my camera lens. Watching grown men and women cry as they lay flowers stirred up feelings of grief inside of me that I had not anticipated.

Feeling rather overwhelmed I decided to set my camera down and gather my own thoughts. Sitting with one of the organisers, Sarah Aggarwal, I ask how she had a connection with the band. “I used to be on the Linkin Park street team, back in 2003” she explained, gesturing to her t-shirt. “I knew I didn’t have to do this, but I felt like I should. It feels good to finish what we started”. Suddenly a fan appeared, wanting to thank Sarah for all her hard work before they leave.One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

Realising a queue of fans had now formed behind us, I step aside. Despite not speaking to Sarah for as long as I would have liked, I watched her work tirelessly throughout the day providing invaluable support for the fans present. I’ve never seen someone suppress their grief for so long to support others, and it was truly humbling to watch.

For many fans Linkin Park’s music served as an invaluable lifeline through some of the hardest points in their lives. They cannot understand how a man who helped so many felt so lost in the end.

And although I never knew Chester Bennington, this memorial felt like the funeral of a close friend; I had deeply underestimated the personal connections these fans had forged with him, with Linkin Park, and with their music. This feeling was made even more poignant by the singing that would eventually take over the crowd, as fans held hands and sang along to the title track on what would turn out to be the band’s last album with Chester Bennington, One More Light.

“Who cares if one more light goes out, well I do”

For more on the One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington, held outside the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham, visit

For support and advice surrounding Chester Bennington’s death, as presented by Linkin Park, visit

For more on Linkin Park, visit




One More Light – a memorial to Chester Bennington @ Barclaycard Arena 29.07.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review


FEATURE: Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt @ City Centre 23.04.16

Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt @ City Centre 23.04.16

Words & pics by Ed King / Artwork by Void One

Birmingham is full of ideas. The city of a thousand social enterprise starts ups is never quiet for long, as a maelstrom of rhetoric fills the coffee shops and square foot homes from home of the city’s eager creatives. God knows I’m one. Birmingham Review was one. Most of my portfolio started at the end of a pot of filter coffee. And as the wheat, chaff and Arts Council do their merry little dance, the city’s event programmes and flyers stands ebb and flow, and ebb again.Main with web colour bcg - lr

(I should at this point apologise for all the ‘lost’ features we’ve never published, or the pages of our website that are not yet online. Watch out for our Lost Review anthology – coming out both in print and online.)

Birmingham Review first interviewed Harley Davies, founder of Beta Birmingham and Beta Test Records, back in May 2013 – after the home grown label released its stonkingly solid album of mash up and homage, Council Pop. The cream of a precarious crop, Council Pop grabbed me as a local release benchmark worth writing about, with the man behind as someone to keep in the ‘Safe Senders’ list.

But often simplicity shines through; simplicity, alongside the graft and address book it takes to deliver a project. Oh yeah, tenacity helps as well. And cash. And time.

So with at least three of those foundations in place, Harley Davies had another idea – one that taps into our city’s desire for art, free stuff and a mad dash around the city. No, not another riot-by-twitter – something all together more creative and constructive. And following on from the beautifully curated The Big Hoot project, it’s planning to “celebrate our vibrant art community, framed by some of the city’s most iconic, intriguing and even notorious locations.” Go on…Harley Davies @ The Custard Factory / By Ed King

On Saturday 23rd April, armed with a treasure map and mobile broadband, the Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt will be swooping across the city centre. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Let the numbers come, the pirate metaphors flow, and the slow loafer hipsters beware… the Captain’s got a canvas to catch.

Beta Birmingham is a local record label. And if you’ve never heard of a treasure hunt before, it’s where you hunt for treasure. Moving on. Beta Birmingham are using the streets of Birmingham city centre for their fast grab endeavour, hiding over 30 pieces of original art from a range of genre and artists. So far we’ve been told about illustration, photography and all sorts of mediums on canvas.

But with ‘why’ hovering on one shoulder, let’s quickly look at ‘how’. And again, the idea is simple. At 12noon on Saturday 23rd April, Beta Birmingham will release a map via their website and social media channels – showing a series of locations across the city centre where they have hidden ‘X Marks the Spot’ signs. Tried and tested, even Enid Blyton children can pick this one up.

Then once a successful ‘player’ finds an ‘X’, they take the ubiquitous selfie (apparently now the world’s new form of colloquial transaction) post it onto the Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt Facebook page, and tootle down to The Custard Factory Street Art Treasure Hunt HQ to collect their loot. Kind of like Thomas Crown meets Treasure Island, with a bit of Gumball Rally thrown in. Or Battle Royale, if you’re really ‘passionate’ about your art.

The ‘why’ is a little more colourful, no pun, and Birmingham Review will be following this story with an interview from Harley Davies – letting them man behind the project explain it in his own words.

But for now, I’ll throw in a starter for ten. According to the initial press release, the Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt is being held to “celebrate” the city’s “vibrant art community” – whilst also being a showcase for “artists who may not have exhibited before to showcase their work alongside some of Birmingham’s more recognised and infamous characters”. Sounds like a solid grant application.

But what arguably makes this project stand out, alongside the unashamed variety of art being presented and the veracity of Beta Birmingham’s previous endevours, is a big fat ‘F’ word. Fun.

“I can’t give too much away at this stage,” says Harley Davies, as Birmingham Review catches him for a greedy pre-interview soundbite, “but we’re hiding the Xs in some iconic, intriguing and even notorious places. There’s original work from a range of this city’s artists and infamous characters; we wanted the treasure map to be just as colourful and just as exciting.  You should see this as a friendly day time mad dash, a pedestrian Gumball Rally style race for hidden art treasure.Harley Davies @ The Custard Factory / By Ed King

And everywhere is accessible – free to get to and open to all ages. It was important that everyone could be involved in the event at every stage. The Street Art Treasure Hunt map will show  players places in the city centre they might never have seen before, but would love to discover. There are places with food and drink in there too, but a packed lunch and trainers might not be a bad idea.” 

And if it all sounds like too much of a foot based commitment, you can always head down The Custard Factory Street Art Treasure Hunt HQ on 23rd April and have a look at some of the pieces – as they wait patiently for their new owners to come and collect them. The ‘HQ’ is at the back of the lake, next to The Mockingbird Theatre & Bar – so it all goes horribly Pete Tong, and you find nowt on your hunt, you can still be a graciously sore loser. Or a full and tipsy one, at least.

But right now I’m off to sharpen my cutlass.

The Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt will take place across the city centre, from 12noon on Saturday 23rd April – with the supporting selected pieces on display at The Custard Factory from 10am.

All aspects of the Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt are free and open to all ages. For more information, visit

Or visit the Beta Birmingham Street Art Treasure Hunt Facebook page at

BREVIEW: International Comic Expo @ The Studio 05-6.09.15

ICE/Comics Uncovered / By Olly MacNamee

Words & pics by Olly MacNamee

I’ll warn you now, many of the names in this review of the International Comics Expo (ICE) you might not know – unless you are passionate about comics and know your Kirby from your Ditko. Because what ICE isn’t, is a pop-cultural carnival posing as a comic con.Bob Layton @ ICE/Comics Uncovered / By Olly MacNamee

ICE is a comic-con that focused squarely on all things comic. By filling their roster with so many fan favourite creators, ICE allowed us (the fans) to meet our heroes and talk to them one to one; creators of characters that have become household names and cherished memories. Judge Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra made a rare joint appearance, as well as legendary Iron Man artist and storyteller, Bob Layton, Watchmen co-creator, Dave Gibbons, and Walking Dead artist, Charlie Adlard. And that was just the tip of the pencil.

Delegates @ ICE/Comics Uncovered / By Olly MacNameeICE was also a chance for the attending speakers and luminaries to socialise with one another, as well as with their fans. There were no airs and graces on show, no raging egos and all guests were easily approachable. Indeed, knowing that Bob Layton doesn’t get paid a cent in royalties for a lot of the Iron Man merch that the Disney/Marvel juggernaut churn out, I was worried he wouldn’t sign my huge Iron Man canvas. But he did, even posing with the beast. Thanks Bob, you just made my already limited edition print even more limited (one of one, by my reckoning) and a grown man childishly happy. Now imagine that multiplied by the 700 visitors to the venue – double the numbers ICE welcomed in 2014.

The Studio venue, on Cannon St in Birmingham City Centre, was brimming with the Old Masters of comics over several floors – such as inkers Joe Rubinstein and Hunt Emerson, as well as the new Renaissance talents such as John Royle and Declan Shalvey. Wherever you turned, you were likely to bump into the great or the good of the comic book world, from both the UK and America. ICE was also a place for new voices, (r-l) Rees Finlay & Olly MacNamee @ ICE/Comics Uncoverednew names, and independent creators to get on the ladder. Many who were selling on the Saturday (such as Rees Finlay, launching his The Indie Project magazine) were also present on the Sunday – when ICE transformed, like an Autobot, into Comics Uncovered and a set of seminars, workshops and networking events presented by many of the comic book pros already mentioned.

We got the chance to go behind the drawing board, so to speak, and listen to tips from the likes of Dr Who storyboard and comic book artist, Mike Collins, DC Comics group editor, Jim Chadwick and inker extraordinaire, Joe Rubinstein – all ready to cast forth their psalms of success unto us in attendance at this alternative Sunday service. After all, in this, we were all believers.

Mike Collins @ ICE/Comics Uncovered / By Olly MacNameeThroughout the day editors from DC and the newly formed comic book company, Aftershock Comics, Mike Marts, reviewed aspiring artists’ portfolios. One pair I met, newbies with a fire in their bellies – Joe and Angus – took on board each and every nugget of advice, immediately soaking it up with their own plans to produce their own comic. It was clear this dynamic duo left inspired and fired up; I can’t wait to see what they produce.

Attending as both a fan (on the Saturday) and a budding comic book wannabe (on the Sunday) the ICE/Comics Uncovered weekend gave me two different, but pertinent perspectives – both of Dave Gibbons @ ICE/Comics Uncovered / By Olly MacNameewhich I enjoyed immensely for what it taught me and for whom I met. People I would unlikely meet again, if not for Shane Chebsey and his hard working crew (and a special big thanks to Claire, who was willing to keep my daughter entertained while I ran around like The Flash grabbing guests).

And as for the booty, the convention plunder, I didn’t do too badly either. As well as my aforementioned signed limited edition Iron Man, I picked up a wicked sketch by locally based DC artist, Phil Winslade – depicting the anti-Justice League of America, The Crime Syndicate. Having only asked for the one character of his choosing, Phil drew the whole gang. This kind of candor, genuine interest and generosity summed the whole weekend up for me.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but when I met mine – over the ICE/Comics Uncovered weekend, they often went above and beyond what they needed to do. That good will, friendliness and open arms to us fans made this one of the best cons of the year so far.

ICEICE came, saw and put the comics back into comic cons. And with more local cons becoming a feature of Birmingham’s social calendar (with the Birmingham Comic Fest in April at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground) expect to see more comic related features in the near future from all of us here at Birmingham Review.

Next up, the big MCM weekender in November at the NEC. Keep ‘em peeled and stay tuned for a preview of that ‘un too. After all, word on the street is that a certain Bionic Man may be in attendance.

For more details on the International Comic Expo (ICE), visit

For more venue details, visit


LOST REVIEW 2015 – BIRMINGHAM REVIEW’s annual anthology will be available to purchase from Friday 27th November, online or though selected venues & outlets. Watch the website for more details.

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