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Birmingham Music Scene
Many famous Birmingham bands and musicians have contributed to the British music scene for over a century. The city's diverse miscellany of musical styles and influences have often been difficult to label with many smaller scenes evolving or individual supergroups taking the limelight rather than the city itself. By all accounts the city is without doubt a heavyweight of the British music industry and continues to supply an endless array of professional artists to a wide variety of bands from the underground to the popular.
In the 1950's Birmingham and the West Midlands promptly adopted the popular American Rhythm & Blues music style, the (then fashionable) Teddy Boy image was sweeping across Britain with American acts such as Bill Haley and the Commets, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly inspiring many bands who replicated the American Rock & Roll sound. Local acts included Billy King and the Nightriders, Pat Wayne and The Deltas and The Dominettes who often performed before ardent crowds in the social clubs and dances of the Midlands.
By the early 60's the Merseybeat was in full swing and the influence of Beatlemania across the world at that time was undeniable.
With the Liverpool bands already covered, Norrie Paramore of EMI Records travelled to Birmingham and as a spin off to the Merseysound Paramore allegedly coined the "Brum Beat" scene. Hoping to find the next Beatles Paramore signed many Midland bands, some of whom were later to achieve much noteriety.
The mid to late sixties saw an amalgamation of the Brum beat and the already existent Rythm & Blues bands in the city, out of this melting pot a diverse 'boxed set' of musicians and bands emerged, from traditional & progressive Rock to the Hippy & Psychadelic movement. Often performing at venues such as the infamous Las Vegas Coffee Bar, the Carlton Club, Birmingham Town Hall, Mothers, the Cedar Club, the Elbow Room and The Moat House these bands were to set the tone for the following decade.
Notable Birmingham bands of the 60's include: The Applejacks, Balls, Band Of Joy, Black Sabbath, The Boulevards, The Brumbeats, Carter-Lewis And The Southerners', The Chads, The Cheetahs, The Diplomats, Earth, Electric Light Orchestra, The Fortunes (whose song "Caroline" was used as the signature tune for the influential Pirate Radio station Radio Caroline), Galliard, Gethsemane, Herbie's People, The Idle Race, The Ivy League, Judas Priest, The King Bees, Locomotive, The Mayfair Set, Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders, Moody Blues, The Moonrakers, The Move (whose "Flowers in the Rain" was the first track played on Radio 1 when it began in 1967), Penny Peeps?, The Rockin Berries, The Second City Sound, The Spencer Davis Group, Tea & Symphony, Traffic, The Uglys, Velvett Fogg, Wizzard and The Yamps.
Groups such as The Spencer Davis Group, Wizard, The Move, Black Sabbath, Traffic (Steve Winwood later forming one third of supergroup Blind Faith), E.L.O., and the Moody Blues later went on to achieve superstardom.
Birmingham is regarded by many as the birthplace of heavy metal music. In the late 1960s Black Sabbath, The Move, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant and John Bonham) cut their teeth in the city's early bands such as the Band Of Joy, Balls and the Rockin' Chevrolets. At this time America's Billboard magazine declared Mothers in Erdington (a famous Rock venue), to be "the number one rock venue in the world", later in an interview with Fused magazine, John Peel also cited it as being one of the "best nightclubs in Britain" of it's time. Pink Floyd recorded much of "Ummagumma" at the venue and The Who performed their musical hit "Tommy", Traffic staged their debut gig there alongside early performances from Black Sabbath.
During the 60's an American electronics company contracted Birmingham-based tape recorder company, Bradmatic Ltd to help develop and build the mellotron keyboard. The synth was one of the first ever sample based keyboards and was used on famous Beatles tracks such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Baby, You're A Rich Man". Mike Pinder actually worked for Streetly Electronics who made it before joining the Moodys and using it on a number of sessions including "In search of the lost chord" (Other notable bands to use the mellotron were the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Zombies). The keyboard is regarded as a major influence to the many Prog Rock bands of the 60's and 70's with a unique flute like sound.
Birmingham has one of the largest West Indian populations in the UK and one of the largest Rasta populations in the world outside of the West Indies. From this many talented musicians have emerged such as mid 70's Roots Reggae band Steel Pulse whose ground-breaking album "Handsworth Revolution" tackled difficult subjects such as racism on Britain's streets. UB40 picked up the gauntlet in 1979 when they released their "Signing Off" album with tracks such as "King" and "One in ten", they were the first mixed-race dub reggae band and later found commercial success. Musical Youth formed in the early 80's out of early soundsystem bands and also enjoyed much chart success. The 2 Tone scene emanated from the West Midlands with bands such as The Beat, The Specials and the Selecter who drew their influences from Mod, Punk and Jamaican ska music. Artistes from the region include Rasta MC Chesire Cat (who rapped on the Leftfield album "Rhythm and Stealth".), Bitty Maclean, Pato Banton and Dub Poet Benjamin Zephaniah.
During the early eighties Birmingham and the Black Country quickly adopted the Hip Hop and Graffiti Art scene that had evolved out of 70's America. A pirate radio station called 'Fresh F.M.' broadcast from the city around this time. Being one of many, the station played hip hop, breakdance and Electro records. A Birmingham Rap crew called Jump released two records, 'We Come to Jam' and 'Feel It', as early as 1985 (one of the MC's rapped on a breakfast show in 1980). Graffiti artist Goldie hailed from nearby Wolverhampton and he combined efforts with other world famous graffiti art "writers" to errect and carry out a graffiti art battle on massive boards in the old Bullring, this was filmed in Chanel 4's early eighties documentary "Bombing" which heavily featured the regions Hip Hop scene. Hip Hop and Acid Jazz nights have taken place in Birmingham for many years and the most popular nights are now Leftfoot and Substance which take place at the Custard Factory and medicine bar in Digbeth.
In the 1980's supergroup Duran Duran began their careers at the infamous Rum Runner nightclub on Broad Street, the venue played a significant role in rock music in Brum. Dexys Midnight Runners, GBH, Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy and the The Bureau also emanated from the city's music scene at this time. The late 80's witnessed Napalm Death pioneer Grindcore music, it blended punk and heavy metal. Grebo and Indie (sometimes refered to as "Baggy" or "Madchester") also became popular in the West Midlands with bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and The WonderStuff. The Charlatans, Birdland, Dodgy, Denim, The Lilac Time, and Ocean Colour Scene were other notable rock bands founded in the city and its surrounding area in this period.
Birmingham embraced Acid House and Rave music in the late 80's with popular party's in venues such as the Digbeth Institute and Coast to Coast. Supported by a plethora of local pirate radio stations this scene later evolved into a Jungle and Drum 'n' Bass underground with popular nights such as Quest and Amazon, The Midland's Jungle clubs later suffered much negative press with several shootings and a clampdown by West Midlands police.
The 90's witnessed an explosion of House music nights supported by local figures such as the late Tony De Vit, Steve Lawler, Scott Bond, Phil Gifford, Jem Atkins and the Ryan brothers. Some of the UK's most influential dance nights have since evolved such as Miss Moneypenny's, Wobble, Fuel, Gods Kitchen, Gatecrasher Club, Sundissential, Fun, Atomic Jam and the original C.R.E.A.M. (Choose right easy and mellow). The city's cultural diversity also contributed to the blend of bhangra and ragga pioneered by Apache Indian in Handsworth.
Electronic and dance music continues to amplify with acts such as Bentley Rhythm Ace, The Streets, Rockers Hi-Fi, The Editors, Surgeon, Mistys Big Adventure, and Broadcast. Large alternative electronic nights take place in the Custard Factory such as Trigger and Earko with many pioneering new Dj's captivating hundreds of revelers.
Other Birmingham groups include:
Neds Atomic Dustbin
Birmingham Town Hall
The grade I listed building hosted big gigs in the 60s and 70s.
Acclaimed at its opening in 1834 as the finest Music Hall in the country, the Grade 1 listed landmark has been lovingly and painstakingly renovated by a dedicated team of conservation and construction professionals.
Designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom for the performance of music, political speechmaking, public gatherings and the use of the urban community, Town Hall opened in 1834.
Since that time, its imposing neo-classical design has dominated the city centre's Victoria and Centenary Squares.
Carling Academy, Birmingham
Occupying the site of the former Rank Ballroom, this live venue was originally the Hummingbird and re-opened in late 2000 with early gigs by Richard Ashcroft and locals Ocean Colour Scene. Upstairs is the smaller 'Academy 2' venue that hosts smaller bands with room for around 400 people.
Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Herefordshire
The beautiful surroundings of the Malvern Hills is the venue for the annual festival, The Big Chill, set across several outdoor stages and featuring much more than top acts and live music (there’s also comedy and dance events). The impressive Castle, gardens and grounds are also open to the public with a knights maze, adventure playground and plenty of woodland walks.
General Wolfe, Coventry
Now known simply as the Wolfe, this is one of the most historic music venues in Coventry. It served as an important 80s musical milestone with Two-Tone and Talk Talk.
One weekend each year the town of Digbeth becomes Gigbeth, a diverse weekend of free concerts showcasing the best local West Midlands musicians from a myriad of genres: indie, pop, classical, jazz, bhangra, reggae, gospel, hip hop, folk and blues. The gigs are held in various venues in Digbeth, including Barfly, the Custard Factory, the Kerryman and the Glee Club.
Malvern Winter Gardens, Midlands
A venue for dozens of concerts by legendary rock bands in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, such as The Who, Black Sabbath, Joy Division, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and Elvis Costello. Music goes back a long way in this area – classical composer Sir Edward Elgar was born facing the Malvern Hills and was inspired by the picturesque countryside. A little known fact - Elgar opened the Abbey Road Studios in 1931 and for their 75th anniversary last November, a blue plaque and photo was erected in his honour. 2007 is the 150th anniversary since Elgar was born.
As you sip from your pint or glass of Pinot Grigio remember that Duran Duran were born in this pub in 1978 - then known as the Hole in the Wall. The band came to fruition after a conversation between Nick Rhodes and John Taylor here over a couple of drinks.
St Mary Magdalene Cemetery, West Midlands
In Tanworth, Arden, near Birmingham, the grave of cult singer-songwriter Nick Drake can be found in this, overlooking a wide expanse of closely-cropped hills and carefully tended meadows.
Nicholas Rodney "Nick" Drake (19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974) was an English singer-songwriter and musician best known for his haunting, acoustic, autumnal songs. His primary instrument was the guitar, though he was also proficient at piano, clarinet, and saxophone. Although he failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime, Drake's work has grown steadily in stature, to the extent that he now ranks among the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years.
Drake signed to Island Records when he was 20 years old and released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969. By 1972, he had recorded two more albums—Bryter Layter and Pink Moon. None of the albums sold more than 5,000 copies on their initial release. His reluctance to perform live or be interviewed further contributed to his lack of commercial success. Despite this, he was able to gather a loyal group of fans who would champion his music. One such person was his manager, Joe Boyd, who had a clause put into his own contract with Island Records that ensured Drake's records would never go out of print.
He suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life, and these topics were often reflected in his lyrics. Upon completion of his third album, 1972's Pink Moon, he withdrew from both live performance and recording, retreating to his parents' home in rural Warwickshire. On 25 November 1974, Drake died from an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed antidepressant; he was 26 years
St Michael's Church, Rushock, Worcestershire
Rushock, Worcestershire. Here lies the grave of Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham, affectionately known as Bonzo, who died in 1980. His son, Jason, has carried on the skin-beating tradition and is an excellent drummer in his own right.
St Paul's Gallery, Birmingham
The largest modern and contemporary art gallery outside London which houses the world's biggest collection of album cover art, including sleeves by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and The Who....and they're for sale, so don’t forget your credit card.
The Bartons Arms, Birmingham
Located in Aston, this Victorian red brick, Grade II listed gabled building dates back to the turn of the last century and was Ozzy Osbourne's drinking den during the early days of Black Sabbath. Other famous faces to have walked through its doors were Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.
The NEC, Birmingham
Europe's busiest exhibition venue just keeps on rocking. Since it opened in 1976 the NEC has been the Midlands' very own Wembley Arena. Keane, Razorlight, Shane Ward, Wet Wet Wet and Madness are just some of the acts that have performed here.
The Red Lion, Staffordshire
Robbie Williams spent his teenage years above the bar of this town pub in Burslem, run by his parents, and he sang with his father on open mic nights - tickets were not compulsory then. Burslem is also the "Mother Town" of the Potteries of Stoke on Trent (by 1710, 43 out of 52 pot banks in the area were in Burslem).
The Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Located in the International Convention Centre (ICC), a diverse annual concert programme includes appearances from world-class artists from classical to jazz, world music, folk, rock and pop. Opened in 1991 to public acclaim, it was instantly acknowledged as the UK's finest concert hall and one of the best in the world.
V Festival, Weston Park, Staffordshire
One of the summer's top festivals, V continues to attract top acts such as Radiohead, Morrissey, Faithless, Kasabian, Beck and Paul Weller . The house and landscaped gardens can also be visited, the house was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book in the 11th century.