LOCAL PROFILE: Vera Gilbert

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

**Read our LOCAL PROFILE with Vera Gilbert in the March edition of the Erdington Local newspaper, out now**

Once viewed on television screens across the UK, Vera Gilbert is a former broadcast journalist and passionate Erdington activist. Previously working for newspapers and radio, alongside her career in TV, Vera has found a happy home supporting her local church and animating events and festivals in Erdington. Erdington Local took up the chance to relive some great moments with her.

Vera was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines, her home country made her “very happy – I still retain that atmosphere as my little heaven. That sense of community… We were poor, but the people were very loving, very kind.”

Vera moved to Birmingham during her primary school years, first living in Washwood Heath. She attended Hodge Hill Girls School in the 1970s.

Vera’s interested in journalism stemmed from her love of engaging with people. “To this day, I enjoy telling people’s stories. They were always a focus – and because they were a focus for me, it was a real privilege. I loved it. All the quirkiness, the different accents, the peculiarities.”

She studied her undergraduate degree at Birmingham Polytechnic, with her thesis concerning ‘Community Newspapers’. She was prodigious and noticed for her talents early on.

“I remember always having offers. I had an offer from the Evening Mail – I even got a front cover scoop for a local newspaper in Luton! I ended up at BRMB. Ed Doolan was there at the time – Les Ros was there. I was a reporter, sent out with a tape recorder, the old style, and I remember covering the Fireman’s strike.”

Vera continued to work for broadcast companies, including ITV and BBC. She went on to become a much sought-after freelance journalist, presenting content for Nationwide, a news and current affairs programme that ran between 1969 and 1983.

“It was excellent, doing pieces to camera. I did a lot of main stories and many ‘and finally’s. I remember doing something on a nudist beech… and I had to report a piece to camera… I won’t tell you how I managed it!”

Travelling the country in search of stories, Vera visited many places and met many people, including celebrities. One such celebrity was the popular English comedian Rodd Hull, best known for his mischievous hand puppet named Emu. Vera notes being very confused when first meeting him, with Rodd Hull’s material today relying on the same celebrity-embarrassing energy seen in the characters of Sacha Baren Cohen.

She recalled: “He had the bird, which I really saw as a prop. Then I started noticing that this bird was moving. I don’t know why, but I took it was real. If ever the bird moved, I would jerk.

“The bird started to get what I thought as ‘aggressive’ and I backed away – the bird came forward, and I ran and I was screaming! This was all on live TV. I was shouting ‘control the bird! Somebody come to my help!’ I didn’t realize that the crew was filming it all. There are some people that remember that to this day.”

But life in broadcasting was not all glitz and glamour, and Vera lived through a dark times in British history. Black Britons were subject to waves of racism, with slogans such as ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ cemented in the national mindset as an example of such intolerance.

Black women were likely to be only seen in lower paid jobs, as Vera comments: “Back then, as a black woman, the best job you could hope for was nursing, and not even the highest echelons of that.” Vera felt that she had to be “a role model – not like people speak as it now – but, as a black person, you felt you were putting the community on show.”

Vera stopped working as a journalist some 20 years ago but turned instead to her local area. She writes the newsletter for the Erdington United Reformed Church where she takes great pride in finding interesting stories and putting people’s good deeds on higher pedestals.

“I love Erdington. I love the people. I want to do what I can to uphold the area.”

On March 26 at 7pm, Vera is organising an online event called ‘Truth to Tell’ which she says the purpose is “to have conversations where black people talk about their experience, for them to say why they feel supportive of Black Lives Matter and so that people know about racism.”

For more details on ‘Truth to Tell’ email: everyoneerd@gmail.com

LOCAL PROFILE: Lady Sanity

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Kristine Lakontra

From the Birmingham Music Awards to the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on Australia’s Golden Coast, Lady Sanity has been performing her songs across the world. With a new single coming out at the end of February, Erdington Local talked to the Birmingham-based musical artist about her Erdington roots and global ambitions.

Lady Sanity has always lived in Erdington, attending Stockland Green School for her secondary education. Despite being passionate about music from an early age, Sanity told how “I have no musicians in the family – me being a musician was a little bit of a curve ball for everyone… Although my grandfather used to take out his harmonica every now and then.”

Her family did, however, expose her to many different musical genres – encouraging the artist to embrace a variety of genres in her own music. “My cousin was showing me Hip Hop over in America. My sister was listening to bands in the UK. Another cousin was listening to Indie and Rock music… A lot of the music I was listening to were fusions of rap.” Sanity even notes Linkin Park as being an early influence.

At aged 12, Lady Sanity got a guitar from Home Bargains – bought for her by her older sister, which was a “cheap, crappy guitar with nylon strings.” Sanity was self-taught, using ‘tabs’ – a type of musical notation system.

Sanity ‘went electric’ aged 14, which was also around the time she was performing her own original music. She fondly remembers her music teacher, Mr Scott, as “very much encouraging me to rap and play guitar…. I was quite a reserved and quiet kid at school!”

Lady Sanity is one of many great musical artists to have come out of Birmingham – producing music inspired by Jazz, Hip-Hop and Grime.

Having played at many venues and events across the city, including Handsworth/Hockley based urban festival The Flyover Show and the Shard End Park hosted Shardfest, Lady Sanity’s first major festival appearance was at Glastonbury 2016.

Sanity entered into a competition called ‘Glastonbury Emerging Talent’, which although she didn’t win, she benefited from immensely: “I was picked up by other bookers to perform smaller stages of the festival – I had three different slots during the weekend. It was an amazing experience”.

She also recalls performing as part of a Hip Hop conference called ‘New Skool Rules’ in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “There were people from America, Canada, UK,” told Sanity. “Artists who came from all around the world – it’s a great weekend to really jam and connect with people.”

A crowning moment for Lady Sanity was performing at the Gold Coast Australia-Birmingham handover ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, although it came as a surprise for the young artist. 

“I was asked if I was free for a couple of days. I went down to the Hippodrome for an interview and they said they had a gig for me – the Commonwealth Games gig! That was only the second gig that me and the band played together! They offered me a house-band but I wanted to keep my own musicians.”

Covid has been adverse for many musicians, making live gigs impossible – an important source of income for a touring musician like Lady Sanity. She estimates she had some “20-30 gigs cancelled” and numerous, potential last-minute requests unaccounted for: “I finished touring with Sound UK before lockdown, and I even performed with Pee Wee Ellis – he was James Brown’s saxophonist… Some gigs were postponed – I was supposed to tour Belgium.”

Nonetheless, Lady Sanity adapted to cyberspace, performing on many livestream gigs – including one facilitated by The Sunflower Lounge which she took part in “to support this amazing venue so it can stay open”. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the live experience, but for Lady Sanity it was still “good to get out to gig, although it’s not the same as interacting with a crowd”.

But the web is indeed worldwide, and during the coronavirus lockdowns Lady Sanity has “been in contact people around the world. I’m working with an Italian power ballad singer I met over the Internet… Now is the time I can sit down and work on EPs, because I’m not up and down doing shows.”

On a personal level, Sanity also believes the lockdown has allowed her to “slow down… It’s helped me be grateful for my life and family.”

Lady Sanity is now looking forward to a year of gigs-that-should-have-happened, as well as releasing her new single, ‘Love’ – coming out at the end of February 2021.

“It’s about the different aspects of love,” explained the Erdington born and raised artist, “your family, friends, and yourself.”

For more on Lady Sanity find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OfficialSanity