May 05

Swingamajig Review

The Electric Swing Circus-curated one-day festival, Swingamajig, returned once again this weekend for its third year to take over Digbeth’s Custard Factory. Going on word of mouth alone Swingamajig always promises to be an energetic and mayhem-fuelled time warp. Springing up for around 15 hours and sitting comfortably in its now regular May Day bank holiday Sunday slot, it gives you a glimpse both backwards and forwards, taking vintage sounds and the feel of the roaring 20s, piling on some gypsy flavoured tunes and giving it a modern twist. A bit like Steampunk, but dancier.

And there were quite a few about amongst the flappers, dandies, gypsies and rockabillies. You could easily spend the entire day parked up at Alfie Birds just looking at the impressive array of costumes that swan past. The sheer effort and attention to detail that the Swingamajig crowd puts into their outfits is quite a telling sign. They are as dedicated to this as the organisers are, which in a festival market which surely must be saturated at this point is a special thing indeed.

But if people watching isn’t your thing there is always something going on. It may have just been blind luck but I honestly wasn’t disappointed by any act I encountered the entire day. Starting with gypsy swingers Manière des Bohémiens warming up a slightly damp crowd on the Arch Stage (“We’re gonna keep doing the ‘start slow and get faster’ thing”) there’s a reason why the festival’s website and Facebook page keep reminding you about dancing shoes. It was pretty much non-stop from there.

Continuing on to the Swingamajig Stage (Usually The Warehouse Club) and one of the day’s higlights for me, Elle and The Pocket Belles are a glam swing/vintage pop fivesome made up of the lofty Elle and her pint-sized bandmates as the name suggests. If that doesn’t make you want to look them up then I hope the phrase “90s boy band mash-up given the vintage treatment” will.

After a break and a bite from one of the food stalls (Which were festival-priced as you’d expect but served good food and catered for pretty much everybody) as well as another cheeky bit of people-watching (It’s not every day you see people doing the Lindy Hop to Mr. Scruff!) we found ourselves in the Oobleck, which for today was moonlighting as the Cave Of Curiosities for a rather unorthodox Gospel Sunday Service by the Legs Akimbo Church and the Rev. Michael Alabama Jackson.

After seeing the light and stumbling out into the darkness, illuminated by some impressive fire-spinners and angle grinding performers that were set up in the Custard Factory courtyard it seemed quite rude to not go see the act that puts the whole event together. The Electric Swing Circus didn’t disappoint and were a high-energy warmup for French Trip-Hop outfit Chinese Man.

Another highlight was Midlands-based Balkan Punk act Johnny Kawalski and the Sexy Weirdos, who came on to a fairly empty room and managed to fill it within a few minutes with some Gypsy sounds and ska beats. I’m pretty sure at this point I wasn’t the only person with aching feet.

Our last call, at a rather respectable 2am, was for The Correspondants who seem to me the sort of act where you know the song but not the artist. Frontman Mr. Bruce displaying a level of energy that would escape a lot of the crowd on a good day, let alone some 12 hours after the festival began. The small hours of the morning see the bands give way to DJ sets, however I don’t know anyone who made it to the death at 6am. If you are one of these intrepid souls, I salute you.

In this festival veteran’s experience, city-centre festivals can sometimes lack the festie feeling, and in the worst case just feel rather depressingly like you’re braving Broad St at its worst of a Saturday night. It may be the niche that Swingamajig have carved out and the discerning clientele it attracts but they are none of the above. Refreshingly it seemed very single festival-goer, band, member of staff and even most of the security looked like they really wanted to be there, as evidenced by so many of the acts beaming from ear to ear at each wild applause. Not naming any names but I’ve experienced similar events in size if not genre in other cities and I genuinely feel Brum leads the pack with Swingamajig, as evidenced by the cheers when the Electric Swing Circus asked the crowd who wasn’t from Birmingham and received more or less the same level of cheering from the non-Brummies as they did from us locals.

In fact, the only criticism I really have of the whole shindig was that it felt like you spent a decent chunk of your day queueing for either toilets or the bar. The former could be easily rectified by a few more portaloos on site, the latter is somewhat trickier. But given that Swingamajig does appear to listen to its fans (Last year feedback was given about the mess left behind, this year a reuseable cup policy was established.) it seems likely it will return in 2016 sparklier and better than the last year.

by Alexa Berry