LOCAL PROFILE: Paulette Francis-Green – Empress P

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Jobe Baker-Sullivan and Paulette Francis-Green

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month (BHM). The newspaper will be releasing a LOCAL PROFILE each week of BHM on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Paulette Francis-Green (creative alias: Empress P) is a “proud Erdingtonian of Jamaican heritage.”

Born in Saltley, she moved to Erdington aged 6 – attending Fentham Secondary School for Girls in the 1970s. Through her company, PFG Consultancy, Paulette has been key in gathering information for Birmingham’s official Black History Month brochure since 2012. The purpose of the City Council funded brochure is “giving out information about events across the city” as well as celebrating various milestones of black history.

Paulette’s first job was for Birmingham City Council, working as a clerical assistant from 1978, and she has been a passionate supporter of the city ever since. But another of her lifelong passions is netball: “I used to eat, drink, sleep netball.”

Paulette proudly tells how she was “chair of the Birmingham netball league for 13 years. I had aspirations of becoming an international netball umpire.” She fondly remembers 1995 Netball World Championship held at the NIA in Birmingham, working on a stall: “Having that here in Birmingham was ‘wow!’. And being part of netball was ‘wow!'”

Another passion for Paulette is poetry. She cites inspirations such as Shakespeare, as well as Birmingham born, nationally renowned poet, Benjamin Zephaniah: “reading his autobiography was powerful. His mum used to rhyme when she was talking to them” and that Benjamin was “Dyslexic”, although did not let this “disability” quell his ambition to write.

Paulette is an integral part of the Midlands dub poetry roots scene, performing and writing with creatives such as Panya the Poet, Sue Brown, and Miss Culture Jam. She has released an anthology called I’ve Landed as well as an accompanying album.

Paulette is also a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2012, she recalls her experience vividly: “I was scared – I didn’t want to die. My granddaughter wasn’t born yet, and I wanted to be able to live to see my grand-child.”

Her big dream was to “get to Ghana and to connect with Africa. Being in the motherland, feeling the African soil.” Making a full recovery, and now having visited Africa several times, she teaches that “what helped me dealing with the cancer was being positive. Being positive within yourself kicks out the negativity.” Paulette launched back into her work in the creative industry “straight after recovery.”

Paulette presented Erdington Local with a small, ongoing memoir of 25 “achievements” she had made since the year 2000. These included job titles such as Equality Diversity Champion, Black History Month Coordinator at The Drum (now known as Legacy Centre of Excellence), and Promotions Coordinator for the Simmerdown Festival.

One such job she had was at the Birmingham Museums Collection Centre, which is ‘a 1.5 hectare site that holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections under one roof.’ Paulette describes the Museums Collection Centre as “Indiana Jones meets Ikea”, referring to the warehouse scene at the end of the first film of the Spielberg series.

Her favourite objects include an unrealised civic plan of Birmingham city centre surrounding Baskerville House, a Giant Crab and a fold-up BSA bicycle from World War II: “Soldiers would parachute out the planes with these bikes strapped to their backs – so when they land, they can jump on their bike, and cycle to where they’re supposed to be!”

Paulette speaks about her role compiling the official brochure of Birmingham Black History Month: “One of the important things was how we wanted to spread the word about the black community, black history and letting people know about it.”

She showed Erdington Local a brochure from 2015 celebrating two important 50 years milestones: Malcolm X’s visit to Birmingham in 1965, and the 1965 UK Race Relations Act – which was the first piece of legislation in the UK to address the prohibition of racial discrimination.

The launch of Birmingham Black History Month at Birmingham Town Hall in 2018 “was powerful. It’s important for the black community that we’re in prominent places.” Paulette recalls with glee meeting American singer Dionne Warwick, who was giving a private concert for the organisers of the launch event. In her capacity of host, Paulette fondly remembers announcing, with a smile, “and now I hand over to Dionne Warwick.”

Paulette’s ebullient personality makes her a natural host. She is a co-presenter on the ‘Roots Rock and Reggae’ show on Newstyle Radio. “We do edutainment” explains Paulette, “we play music but we give out information as well – Caribbean news, black history, stuff about COVID.”

I’ve done a lot over 60 years.” Paulette exclaims. However, some of her favourite hosting moments were in Erdington. She hosted the Christmas Lights Switch On and the Erdington Community Festival in Rookery Park, both events facilitated by the Erdington Arts Forum.

Paulette is also a staple part of the Arts Forum’s monthly Evening of Creativity, saying she loves “introducing the locals – giving them a round of applause.”

For more on Black History Month in Birmingham, visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

I’ve Landed, by Empress P, is out now – available to purchase from Waterstones or Amazon. The album will soon be available on Spotify.

Paulette/Empress P will be hosting the Evening of Creativity: Black History Month special in Erdington at Oikos Café on the 16th October. Tickets will be available through Eventbrite – for updates and information, visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

You can listen to Newstyle Radio’s ‘Roots, Rock and Reggae show’ with Tony Roots featuring Empress P on Wednesdays 8-10pm on 98.7FM – for more on Newstyle Radio, visit www.newstyleradio.co.uk 

NEWS: Erdington’s Evening of Creativity returns with its first ‘live show’ since lockdown

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 19th June, the Evening of Creativity will be returning to the OIKOS Café – presenting its first ‘live show’ since the lockdown began.

An eclectic programme of music and art, June’s Evening of Creativity will be a mix of pre-recorded performances from musicians across the city – alongside selected live performances on the OIKOS stage, being streamed through the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page.

The special Friday night showcase will be the first time the event has been held, in part, at the OIKOS Café since the widespread closures of venues to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Organisers are keen to recreate the live gig experience, using the full venue set up at OIKOS Café – with all the sound, lighting, and staging in place that you would find at one of their regular concerts.

Running from 7:30pm, musicians appearing across the evening will include Clive ‘the slide’ Allsopp – who is taking a break from his role as conductor of the Walsall Symphony Orchestra to play some solo jazz trombone.

Robin Surgeoner will also be performing a live solo acoustic show, playing a set of original music – all penned by the nine time Gold medal winning Paralympian swimmer, who is also a prominent musician, poet, and artist under the pseudonym Angryfish.

There will also be a special cooking segment from the Polish Expats Association (PAE), showing the online audience how to prepare authentic Central and Eastern European dishes – as featured in the Central European Cookbook on the PAE Facebook page.

Performing and hosting the Friday 19th June event will be local poet, Empress P – returning to the Evening of Creativity after her set at the 17th April showcase, the first event held online after the widespread venue closures.

Empress P will also be interviewing local author Ed King – whose new book, Snapshots of Mumbai, is an exploration into the South Asian megacity and the historic relationship between India and Britain. Keen to shine a light on the fingerprints of Imperialism for a modern day audience, Ed King will be discussing his book amidst the recent clarion calls for clarity over Britain’s colonial past.

Having run every month since it was first established in 2017 by the Erdington Arts Forum, the Evening of Creativity events have become a regular fixture in Erdington – hosted at the OIKOS Café on Erdington High Street, until the coronavirus crisis forced it online.

Committed to supporting artists across the constituency, each Evening of Creativity is also a chance to introduce new performers to Erdington – establishing them in front of a vibrant North East Birmingham audience, and vice versa.

But as the lockdown saw music venues close and stages left empty, the Evening of Creativity embraced a new digital audience – one that allowed the local event to reach out even further than before through social media and live streaming.

Now, as the coronavirus crisis is brought more and more under control, with the physical and social distancing restrictions being eased week by week, organisers are keen to nurture this new-found fan base – alongside returning to the live environment that helped establish the event.

We’ve always been ‘standing room only’ at Oikos,” tells Jobe Baker Sullivan – Evening of Creativity founder and chair of the Erdington Arts Forum, “the live events were well supported and loved by a loyal crowd – every month, without fail, we saw a packed house enjoy music from across Erdington and the country.

But when the lockdown came and venues closed, we were forced online to keep the event alive – recording performances and posting them onto social media. Initially we didn’t think of this as anything more than a stopgap, but the ability to reach audiences well beyond Erdington has been an unexpected gift.

So, on Friday 19th June, we are going to bring back the live show – recording part of the event live, back at Oikos, and broadcasting it as it happens. But we’re also keen to nurture our new digital audience too and bring them more into the gig – recreating the live show experience as much as we can for everyone enjoying the Evening of Creativity online.”

To find out more about and Erdington Arts Forum and their regular Evening of Creativity events, and to watch this month’s event at 7:30pm on Friday 19th June, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum

For more on Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

NEWS: Erdington Arts Forum presents an online Evening of Creativity

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 17th April, Erdington Arts Forum will be hosting their monthly Evening of Creativity online – edited for a special broadcast through the Erdington Arts Forum/Café Arts Facebook Page, from 7:30pm.

This month sees a rich and diverse line up including live music, performance poetry, and visual art – presenting a series of special sets that have been recorded and sent from the artist’s own houses and studios.

Appearing at this month’s Evening of Creativity will be the ever popular Barbara Nice, who will be using her own twinkle in the eye storytelling for a riotous set of comedy and tall tales – delivered directly from her home to yours.

Also performing will be saxophonist George Northall, who has previously toured with rock legends Black Sabbath and will be presenting his own special solo set.

Families make up the rest of the musical line up, with father and son duo The Shearers playing their own brand of indie folk – alongside some tried and tested feel good classics. Whilst The Hendersons, father and daughter, complete the live music line up with their own brand of ‘floral jazz’.

Perfomance poet Empress P will also be recording a special set of spoken word and verse, adding exra flavour to the night’s artistic melting pot.

Alongside the live music and poetry, the event will feature presentations throughout the evening from local visual artists, including pieces from Jennette Hill, Ramona Petrescu, Andy Spencer, and Simon Walker.

Having run since 2017, Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity has become a regular fixture in Erdington – hosted every month by its founder, Jobe Baker-Sullivan.

Committed to supporting artists across the constituency, as well as introducing new performers and acts to the area, each Evening of Creativity is a unique showcase event – curated with care for the people of North East Birmingham and beyond.

Usually hosted by the OIKOS Café on Erdington High Street, the regular musical and performance evenings have been held every month since their inception – even during the coronavirus crisis.

But due to the social distancing restrictions put in place by Public Health England, last month’s event was streamed from a special Secret Arts Space on Erdington High Street – as featured in the video below.

This month’s Evening of Creativity has expanded the line up with pre-recorded sets from artists across the city – to be broadcast via the Erdington Arts Forum/Café Arts Facebook page from 7:30pm on Friday 17th April.

Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity – Friday 20th March

To find out more about and Erdington Arts Forum and their regular Evening of Creativity events, and to watch this month’s event at 7:30pm on Friday 17th April, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum