This last weekend saw Birmingham's famous Custard Factory and the surrounding area explode with music, street food and most important of all, graffiti art in all shapes, sizes and forms adorning each and every wall of Digbeth, as we celebrated the first City of Colours free graffiti festival with a bang. This is one of those times when the use of more than one exclamation mark would be justified and from what I saw and I am sure it won't be the last we see of City of Colours. I already envision this one-day event becoming an annual fixture in the calendar for years to come. I already know they are planning another one next year.
Organized over ten months by Karl Jekyll Paragareen and Becci Wright, with support on the day from an army of volunteers, local pubs and eateries and over 120 graffiti artists from all over the United Kingdom and beyond, what may have started off as a word-of-mouth exercise in the early days of the project steamrolled on to become a brute of an event busting at the scenes with families, the ubiquitous hipsters (yes, we have them here in Birmingham too) and at one point a wedding party that had wandered into the revelry and were happy to stay. I'd like to see their photo album from their special day.
I had worried that maybe this was a day that would only attract the die-hard fans and a few others. But, with a strong focused assault on local media outlets and great outreach work with local schools situated in the less affluent areas of Birmingham earlier this summer, as well as warm-up events across the city, this was a run away success on all fronts. The sun was out and the beer and cheer was flowing as people moved round the streets of Digbeth and The Custard Factory complex taking it all in. In just the courtyard area alone of this famous Birmingham landmark at any given time of the day you could witness live rap battles hosted in the relatively new Oobleck venue (part of the excellent Alfie Bird's bar), an indoor pop-up market that offered an affordable art sale (I nabbed a Gent 48 print as soon as I got there as they were going fast) and a wall for anyone to doodle upon. This gave the swarms of children one of many chances over the course of the day to release their inner artist, along with graffiti and breakdance workshops as well as the welcome return of high-end trainer mart Sneaks and Peaks and Dead Pixels, the latter a monthly Hip-Hop and old-school gaming night held in The Bulls Head, Moseley. DJs provided the beats throughout the day as artists meticulously went about creating their mammoth works of art over many a wall- as well as a lasting legacy for the city - and at one point on the floor-to-ceiling glass frontage of indie movie house The Mockingbird as local hero Lisk-bot battled it out with London based Captain Kris in a high noon spray-off. Needless to say, the local hero won on crowd applause as both then got off and got on with their individual pieces just round the corner and down the road.
Every local business seemed to be involved, and not just tenuously as is often the case when they feel they can soak up some of the passing trade, but knee-deep. The Old Crown (Birmingham's oldest pub dating back to the 14th century) not only helping out with barbequed burgers, break beats and beers but give their car park over to several artists to paint their varied visions on free standing boards. Local boys Void One and That Bloke Wilson as well as over a dozen more were painting all day in the late summer sun, a thankful bonus that could only add to the event. I began to wonder whether the big guy in the sky was a graffiti fan after the cold weather we'd had running up to September.
As the families went home to suffer the trails and tribulations of Saturday evening television the day only moved into another gear. The music was turned up to eleven and autumn's final of Secret Walls got underway to compliment the main festival; a clever and appropriate synergy of the two different events. Over the 90 minute battle new king Trou outdid Mr Millerchip with his Leo Baxendale influenced art style to win the day, under close scrutiny from many of the artists from the day with familiar faces from the Uk scene, Hoakser, Foka Wolf and The Lost Souls with too many more to mention right here right now anyway.
This could and should be a two day event, especially given how many of the hard working artists on the day returned early the next morning to continue working through a balmy Sunday and into the early autumnal evening. Keats can keep his rustic autumnal mists and mellow fruitfulness; City of Colours on Sunday was Birmingham's very own contemporary ode to autumn.
All photos are the writer's own