There’s a nice interview with me in the local broadsheet today – heavily slanted towards Project X Presents (what with our next major event coming up on Saturday).

It also covers my work in stand up comedy – particularly the regular theatre/festival style shows I book at the Old Joint Stock Theatre – and briefly mentioning my music “he’s quietly built a following for his melodic and magical compositions.”

Project X hits the right spot

Sep 9 2008 By Simon Harper

Simon Harper meets Birmingham’s musical catalyst, Rich Batsford.

In the past decade and more, Birmingham has undergone something of a cultural renaissance. Creative activity in the city is now much more widespread and there’s a host of artists, events and venues in the city which are getting national recognition too.

“There’s loads more happening now than in recent times,” enthuses Rich Batsford.

“I’ve gradually become much more a part of it, and I’d say that it’s really taken off. We all too often measure ourselves against other cities. The reality is that Birmingham is a very diverse city and may not have had a scene like Madchester or stuff that’s happened in London, at least not since the 70s and metal, but it’s got some amazing music and other stuff.”

Whether playing music, booking gigs, promoting shows or doing voluntary work at several cultural events in Birmingham, Rich finds himself involved in all sorts of activity within the city, perhaps most notably with his involvement as one of the key figures behind Project X Presents.

This weekend sees the fourth Project X event – described as an ‘omnimedia experience’, it is built around the theme of a ‘digital dystopia’, bringing together a multitude of art forms for a sensory overload.

The line-up features the warm electronica of Arc Vel, 360’s sunshine-fuelled ska, stand-up comedy from Reginald D Hunter and Khalgani’s tribal belly dancing, plus a number of other performers taking in myriad creative formats.

For Rich – who will also be performing a set of his meditative piano compositions as part of proceedings – this is a logical step in the development of Project X, a process that has been underway since long before their inaugural event in 2006.

“It grew out of ongoing discussions between five friends, basically. We spent a lot of time talking art, entertainment and life generally, and how we’d like things to be, and it dawned on us fairly gradually that we should do something together.

“In life we tend to get thrown together with people to some degree, and certainly in normal working life you don’t choose who you get to work with, and we saw that we had an opportunity to work with exactly the people we did want to work with.

“There was one catalytic event, which was a party we had to say bon voyage to a close friend of ours who was going off travelling, but also partly for my birthday. We had the party at Robannas, the rehearsal studio. There’s no one big room in there but we had a number of different things going on in a number of rooms. There’s no reason why you can’t have lots of different types of creative endeavour side by side at the same event.”

After the first event in July 2006, charmingly titled ‘Like Fxck’, a programme was devised as part of last year’s Gigbeth festival to provide the follow-up, while ‘Digital Dystopia’ will be the second Project X shindig this year.

It seems to be part of a laudable attempt to develop audiences and partnerships both within Birmingham and also nationally, with a creative ethos at its heart.

“This is one of the things that Project X is intended to address; to develop and engage with an audience. By having such a diverse range of stuff within the show, we will hopefully be introducing people to at least some stuff that they haven’t previously engaged with.

“We very much want to challenge the audience a bit; not make it difficult for them, but engage with them and not just have them passively watching something at the back of the room.

“With Project X, because the audience are in the room and the stages are around them, you feel much more a part of it and much more caught up in it, so that the audience are actively participating in the event.”

Away from such multi-faceted events, Rich is also heavily involved in the live comedy scene in Birmingham, booking and promoting stand-up and theatre shows at the Old Joint Stock Theatre as well as several other venues around the country. He’s brought the likes of stand-up stalwart Stewart Lee to such an intimate venue, along with fast-emerging mirth-makers such as Wil Hodgson, Nick Doody and Paul Sinha.

“I saw an opportunity to book the sort of shows that I really enjoy,” he grins. “The hour-long festival and theatre-style shows in which people have that much more chance to extend themselves comedically than they do in your standard 20-minute or 30-minute club or pub gig format.

“We’ve been there for a couple of years now, building up an audience of people who want to see some pretty interesting comics, doing the hour shows that they deliver at the Edinburgh festival and other comedy and arts festivals across the world.

“Reginald D Hunter has been, from the moment I first saw him on a stage, one of my favourite acts and he’s the first name on my team-sheet.

“I did try to get Doug Stanhope, who I saw at Edinburgh last year and was tremendously impressed by. Stewart Lee, who I think at his best is amazing.

“I really enjoy an act called Paul Provenza, who made a rather amazing film called The Aristocrats.

“Stand-up is such a varied and loose format at the end of the day; there’s so many options.”

Quite how he manages to fit the life of a musician into his hectic schedule remains unclear, but – armed with a love of French classical piano and a stack of Beach Boys albums – he’s quietly built a following for his melodic and magical compositions.

“By far and away the biggest single musical influence in my life is Brian Wilson. From initially appreciating the ‘Fun Fun Fun’ pure joy captured in a two-minute pop song, to gradually discovering the extent of Brian Wilson’s creative genius, he’s taught me a great deal.”

You can catch Rich and a slew of other performers at Project X Presents on Saturday September 13, at BUSK, Gough Street, Birmingham, 8pm.

Birmingham Music Project X Presents

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