Looking down the top end of Digbeth High Street, speckled with touches of orange, white and green, the gathering of people for St Paddy's was impressive. We made our way down to join the celebrations and catch a glimpse of the floats. The urban landscape, defined by industrial warehouses, market stalls and concrete walls embellished with vibrant graffiti, was broken up with parade-goers in their multitudes. Cleverly (or so we thought!) we attempted to follow the thickest part of the crowds in the hope that it would lead us to the parade itself. After asking a few punters, we soon realised, we'd missed it by about 30 minutes! Not letting this momentary blip get to us, we launched straight into collecting some vox pops.
Flanked by our arty photographer, Nikolay (slim jeans, knitted accoutrements and cigarette in hand), Carly, Katie and I, equipped with all the professional gear that'd make any big-time journalist feeling somewhat 'ordinary', headed for small groups of people seemingly in intense conversation... And they were! They let us kindly interrupt their heated debate on the values of the younger generation and were delighted to hear about our project, especially one participant by the befitting name of Patrick. After capturing the variety of voices and opinions, as young as 10 and as old as 70, we found ourselves by a BBC van. 'Aha! An opportunity to show the long-standing experts how it's REALLY done' we thought! The gods were on our side, after a successful chat with the producers and great sound bites to add to the record, our lovely local historian, Carl Chinn, joined our discussion. Author of many books on Brum including Birmingham Irish. Making Our Mark (Birmingham, 2003), the University of Birmingham professor wasn't going to slip through our vox popping hands without offering his words of local history gold to add to our time capsule! 3 minutes of tape, 5 stickers and one photo later, the 'Digbeth Speaks' gang walked away very chuffed indeed!
Our onward journey was pleasantly interrupted by Margaret and her Irish-costumed Yorkshire Terrier puppy, named Buddy, 'but today he's been renamed Paddy'. After another accolade of atmospheric sound bites, from clowns (yes, clowns!) to local lads, we found ourselves amidst the market stalls. Requiring skills of suppleness, quick-thinking and a magnitude of courage, we leant over market stall after market stall to capture our contributors insightful voices without getting in the way of their trade. I did say courage...after one recording in the petting zoo, Carly calmly appeared over my shoulder with a tarantula held out in her palm! Jokes with creepy crawlies over, we headed to the fairground. The sun was finally beginning to shine! The pubs were full to the brim with people dressed as Guinness pints, leprechauns and were alive with merriment.
Two hours later, the Digbeth Speaks A-team slowly headed back to New Street following the streams of punters and Irish flags also calling it day. Engaging with a diversity of people (and animals!), joining in with St Paddy's celebrations and capturing the smiles and excitement of the area isn't too bad for a day's work really!
Marie Giraud, Team Leader