Words & pics by Ed King @edking2210
I’m at the Station pub in Kings Heath, the moniker I know from previous events I’ve attended here – illustrious disasters, ranging from a particularly aggressive christening reception to an evening of painfully compèred stand up. All in all, ‘the Station’ wasn’t leading the Kings Heath renaissance.
But things change (even in the suburbs of South Birmingham) and the Station began its illuminated ascent a couple of years ago, after being bought out by Sun Pubs Ltd – operators of the perpetually busy Sun on the Hill on Bennett’s Hill (the venue in which I first heard Carina Round silence a room a capella).
But back at their Kings Heath ‘sister venue’, Birmingham Review has been invited to check out PRESENTS… a regular showcase of the brave, bold & beautiful from Birmingham’s live music scene. Already the lineup is a welcome breath; blowing away the ghost of events past (nothing like new mothers punching each other) to make room for an evening of artists we either want to see or always enjoy.
Headlining is an old Birmingham Review favourite, Call Me Unique, who Birmingham Review last saw launching her Urban Gypsy EP at the now sadly departed Yardbird. In support are Tina Amana, Ed Geater & Hannah Brown – the latter seemingly on everyone’s list about something, but whom I have still yet to see live. So it’s an evening of old friends and firsts, in a venue that I discover (using my highly trained investigative journalism super powers) sells cheeseburgers these days too. Result.
The venue looks great too; the front bar is lush in purple walls, with a warm comfy lay out and gregarious staff. The back room (which on my last visit looked a bit like my Nan’s living room with beers on draft) is laid out to fit about 80-100 people, including a decent sized rostrum at the far end that actually feels like a focal point.
Plus, if you needed any more help defining the boundaries of the stage, as series of 6-8 ft illuminated mushrooms dominate the professional end of the room; a quite staggering adornment in a suburban high street venue back room, earning the second gold star of the evening. There’s a high spec sound system in place at the Sun at the Station too, and as I tiptoe in between the arriving support acts and their sound checks, this back room begins to feel much more like a venue.
I buy Unique a healthy looking chicken salad (a food bill which, unbeknownst to me, was further picked up by the venue – third gold star) and attack the cheeseburger I spied on the menu earlier; none, too, shabby, and all served with a smile. Capital ‘R’ Result.
The front bar starts to fill up with gig goers and guests; a Cheers familiarity in a blanket of chatter. I run into a few surprise faces, Unique welcomes other musicians and regulars as they come in from the February cold, and before the end of my burger there is a small throng of Friday night friends bustling around the bar. It maybe the second cider, but I’m already enjoying this evening and no one’s on stage yet.
But that soon changes, as Hannah Brown opens the night with her one woman/six string laments of love and beyond. Hannah Brown has a superb voice, and a delivery that will earn her a place in many hearts and iTunes accounts to come – but I’ll hold out on any further critique until her debut release later this year.
Ed Geater comes on next, bathed in slightly more photography friendly light than Ms Brown (when an 8ft mushroom wants to shine dark red & purple, there’s not a lot you can do) and leaves possibly the biggest impression on me from the support acts tonight. Again it’s the lone singer/songwriter approach (a formula that, whilst arguably ubiquitous, is one less people can pull off than they realise) but with enough loops, beat boxing and overall originality to make me keep one eye on the future listings.
The only slight line up misstep comes with Tina Amana, as a full band breaks up the solo artist approach and pushes me in a corner of the room to catch up with an old friend. A soulful performer, and one I’ve seen before & would certainly see again, but Miss Amana would perhaps have tonight been better served with a stripped back set.
Then we have Unique; as the busiest woman on a Birmingham stage gets up to perform, on another Birmingham stage, the room feels full of love and support – and not just for the artists on stage, but for the room and the reasons that brought them there in the first place. I’ve heard Unique make her speech about “support you local venues and artists” in many rooms before, but it feels oddly pertinent in this one tonight.
Unique’s set is a who’s who of her well versed portfolio, with ‘Sholo’ being my as per usual favourite from the track list. Hannah Brown returns to give musical backing to Unique’s freestyle – with the godsend ‘punani’ giving her a fair amount to work with, before the encores and mushrooms eventually dissipate and the evening draws successfully to its close. If I were to pull another gripe from the night, it would be a request for some new tracks from the headliner – Unique’s Urban Gyspy EP was too good not to follow up, and one-year-one-month later my belly now rumbles for more.
After a bit more small talk and cider, I wrap the night up; it’s been a great gig, well supported and showing some serious promise of things to come. Kings Heath has been arguably transformed with the success of places like Cherry Reds, the Kitchen Garden Café and the Hare & Hounds; but whilst the later keeps an event calendar to rival many city centre venues, it would be good to feel a beating heart behind the local live support too.
Kings Heath needs a place for bands to hang out, a hub; a venue where musicians off stage watch musicians on stage and the public watches both. It needs a low maintenance buzz, a welcoming centre – harking back to the halcyon days at the Jug of Ale and Breedon Bar. Something you can sink your teeth into for about a fiver.
And in this reviewer’s opinion, from what I saw in between the haze of illuminated mushrooms and cloudy apple press, the Sun at the Station could be that venue – Kings Heath’s perfect cultural ancillary.
At the right end of the High Street, with the right promoters behind it, this could be a gem getting ready to sparkle. But we’ll see; I’ve been wrong before. Christ, I owned a Kooks album. The horror. The horror.
To be continued & revisited… fingers crossed for a Sun blessed B14 summer.
For more on Call Me Unique, visit http://callmeunique.co.uk/
For more from The Sun at the Station, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Sun-at-the-Station/284419015032210