The Commentators

08Nov09

The Commentators is an unlikely phenomenon that has become the latest addition to the Stan’s Cafe portfolio. Since the success of Stan’s 24-hour Scalextric, collaborations with Birmingham Royal Ballet and the BCMG are in the offing. This is a project with educational potential too. The idea has already been picked up as a literacy tool with a boy-friendly flavour.

Friday evening saw the Launch of Birmingham Contemporary Art Festival at Eastside Projects – aka. ‘The Event’; a Digbeth Biennale, if you will. 3 days beforehand I get a call from James asking me whether I can step into his shoes for a continuous commentary of ‘The Event’. It’s a daunting prospect, but unlike the Scalextric this is a mere 5 hours long.

Craig and I roll up and take our positions high up on a freestanding corridor construction, with the installations spread out on all sides throughout the warehouse building. We’re dressed in sheepskin coats. Craig sports a trilby, me a flat cap. The lip-mics spark up and through the power of digital radio, Rhubarb Radio broadcasts our inane ramblings to the world.

Works of visual art, audio-described as if by Motty and Clive Tilsley. Craig hits a rich seam focussing on the unfolding narrative of the toilet queue, whilst occasional twitches of the curtain offer tantalising glimpses of dancefloor activity nextdoor. We discuss the contents of some of the printed matter that’s been produced for the occasion, including a box of cartoon pamphlets titled Fuck Book. Just when we think we’ve got the measure of the room, commentating on the proliferation of certain styles of clothing, beard or spectacle counts, there’s a surprise entrance from a new group of visitors (take for example the Jockey Men’s Morris Club, who danced their way in wearing full regalia) or an individual bearing a striking resemblance to…. (Iggy Pop was in the house, as was Rutger Hauer, Debbie Harry and Noel Gallagher). Yeah, it was one hip do.

From our lofty position the private narratives are made public – lovers in clinches, moustachios executing guerilla interventions on the artworks, drinks spillages, altercations, etc. At one point there’s a flurry of movement from the staff – clearly mobilised by some crisis. We speculate as to the disaster outside the building and on the arrival of emergency services (we can see the reflection of flashing lights through the entrance door). It’s all good material for us, isn’t it ?

…… oh……..hang on…..what’s that?  … Iggy Pop’s been run over ?!!

We’re politely asked not to focus so much on the road accident in our commentary, as it might be deemed insensitive. Gavin the director of Project Eastside is looking pale and worried all of a sudden. It’s been a great night, but it might not end so. There’s a lorry load of Fuck Books arrive at that moment, hot off the press. We change the topic accordingly.

At midnight we wind up our broadcast, climb down and are assured that the injured guy is in hospital but will be ok. Scott the dj says “He would have loved the idea of you making a commentary of his accident”. Scott is smiling wistfully but talking about the guy in the past tense. I’m a little uneasy – and not so sure we really did chime with the mood at floor level after all. We make for the exit. James, an androgyne who looks like he’s just stepped out of a Steve Strange (or the ‘Ashes to Ashes’) video says, “I loved your characters. You were really fly up there”.

Were we? Yeah I guess we were.

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One Response to “The Commentators”

  1. 1 James

    It was great listening to it back at home, you both did a great job. Part of the idea of The Commentators is that if you can’t make it to a cultural event then listening in to the commentary will make it feel as if you are there – mission accomplished.

    Correcting a minor factual error, the BCMG collaboration though possibly sounding like a Commentator’s project isn’t – but will be good nevertheless!


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