Terry Grimley previews the launch of a new festival in Digbeth this weekend...
With around 300 individual musicians taking part in 18 gigs in nine different venues, Birmingham's newest music festival is not exactly starting small.
"Gigbeth", which takes place (as you might well guess) in Digbeth this coming weekend, is a free festival of performances by Birmingham and West Midlands performers in styles ranging from singersongwriters to reggae, indie rock, bhangra and jazz.
Leamington duo Nizlopi, who enjoyed chart-topping sucess with The JCB Song and are about to release its follow-up, are among the headliners, while such stalwarts of Midlands reggae and ska as Pato Banton, Neville Staples and Ranking Roger will also be taking part, alongside international bhangra stars DCS.
Thanks to the involvement of MTV2 there will also be a guest non-West Midlands contingent led by up-and-coming Leeds indie band Forward Russia.
Designed to showcase the scale and variety of the city's musical scene, which has little national profile and remains a mystery even to many within the city, Gigbeth has come about via an unusual route, to complement a conference being held by the Learnings and Skills Council (LSC). Other supporters include Advantage West Midlands, Arts Council England, the Musicians' Union and Radisson SAS hotels.
In 2004 the Birmingham and Solihull LSC carried out a major inquiry into music in the city from a training and careers perspective. As a result, Clare Edwards was appointed for two years as the only LSC music co-ordinator in the country.
She explains: "I had the job of putting on an annual conference and as all these people were coming to it I thought it would be good if there was music going on around it over the weekend."
Conference speakers include Birmingham-raised singing star Joan Armatrading, Youth Music chief executive Christina Coker, and Glastonbury Festival booking agent Martin Elbourne.
The festival, which runs from 2pm until late on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, was organised in collaboration with Channelfly, who have recently opened their Barfly venue in the area, and other promoters in the city.
"It would have been very easy for me to stick with Channelfly," says Clare. "We could have sat around a table and chosen bands that applied to play, but I wanted to involve promoters who do it every week, like Arthur Tapp at the Jug of Ale and a number of people who are putting gigs on around the city.
"Having been in my post since July it's been a very qick turnaround. But people seem to have agreed with me that this needed to happen. It's a free gig to the audience but all the musicans are being paid. What I'm pleased about is that in such a short time we've got a really, really good line-up."
As well as The Barfly, venues include The Sanctuary, South Birmingham College, the Custard Factory and The Kerryman.
Not the least interesting aspect of Gigbeth is its concentration on venues in a small, concentrated area. With visions of Digbeth as a new creative quarter frustratingly slow to take off despite the efforts of the Custard Factory and The Rainbow, it promises to introduce a welcome spark of activity, with the possibility of it becominga regular event if the first one is judged a success.
Another music festival planned for Eastside takes place on the site of the new Eastside park in Curzon Street on Bank Holiday Sunday, May 28.
Organised by promoters Big Cat Music, the day will juxtapose dance and live music, with former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon headlining.
Also confirmed so far are Orson, The Crimea, Boy Kill Boy, Kenny Dope and Mr Scruff.
Tickets go on sale on March 30 at 9am on bigcatshop.co.uk. Information and ticket hotine is 0870 754 1772.
One Birmingham festival which sadly will not be happening this year is L'Esprit Manouche, the international gypsy jazz event which has graced Moseley Park for the last three years.
The organisers who were expecting a #15,000 contribution from the city council found that the figure on offer was actually #5,000 and have reluctantly bowed to insurmountable financial odds.
Festival director Dave Alexander also points to the impact of new licensing laws which mean that an entertainment licence which previously cost #350 could now cost more than #2,000.
"It's really sad," says Dave. "To me, L'Esprit Manouche has been a nightmare of organisation but a thing of real heart, honesty and beauty when it happens - there aren't enough moments like that in life and it's a tragedy when one more is closed down."