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The Scarlet Harlots pic: Jim Weaver
The Scarlet Harlots pic: Jim Weaver

Birmingham Music Scene

By Nick Byng, contributor
Music pulses through the heart of this city. Here's Nick Byng's history of Birmingham's bands and muscians and a taster of the best to come.

Although Birmingham has often promoted an industrious image, music has always pulsed through the heart of the city. From concrete urban landscapes to leafy suburban sprawl, the city continues to inspire some powerful musicians and bands.

Radio Caroline, The BBC and ‘A Whole Lotta Love’

Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath

Since the late 1950s, young Birmingham Rock n Roll wannabes played along to the same American R&B records as the Beatles, Kinks and Rolling Stones, but the Brummie twang wasn’t really picked up on by the media until the mid 60s.

Radio Caroline used the Fortunes 'Caroline' as their signature tune, The Move became the first bad boys of pop and provided BBC Radio 1’s first record 'Flowers In The Rain',
The Spencer Davis Group kept on running and The Moody Blues gave us 'Knights In White Satin'.

Duran Duran
Duran Duran pic: Richard Haughton

"The whole scene in those days, was known as the ’Birmingham group scene’ and lots of musos, would meet after gigs, at such places as the Cedar, Rum Runner, Opposite Lock, Rebecca’s and after at Alex’s Pie stand, there was great camaraderie, and I just hope the present musos have something similar!" - writes Keith Law of 60s Brumbeat group 'Velvet Fogg'.

One such music venue to fuel this scene was 'Mothers' in Erdington, one of John Peel’s favourite nightclubs during the late 60s. Pink Floyd recorded much of 'Ummagumma' there (Nick Mason being born in the city), The Who performed Tommy, Steve Winwood's 'Traffic' staged their debut gig and Black Sabbath aired some of their earliest songs.

It was also during this interest in the city that Jimmy Page recruited Robert Plant and John Bonham from The Band Of Joy to form Led Zeppelin.

A Handsworth Revolution, Punk and 'Girls On Film'

Steel Pulse

The 70s reinforced the city’s heavy rock sound, as Judas Priest thrashed, Ozzy of Black Sabbath allegedly bit the head off a bat and electronic pioneers ELO graced the nations airwaves with no Christmas ever escaping Wizard’s scary beards.

The more political sounds of Jamaican Reggae and Ska manifested in UB40, Steel Pulse, Musical Youth and the Beat, reggae sound systems and blues parties bubbled underground with artists such as Joan Armatrading and Pato Banton finding new fame.

Closely tied to the reggae revolution was Punk. The Prefects, Killjoys, Dansette, Sussed, GBH and Toyah contributed to this music scene, then came heart throbs Duran Duran whose videos included half naked models, one of which Simon Lebon later married much to the disappointment of my older sister. Dexy’s Midnight Runners sang 'Eileen', Stephen Duffy wanted you to kiss him and Fine Young Cannibals had chart success singing 'It’s not the way it used to be'.

Brumchester, Brit Pop and NME’s best band of 2007

Ocean Colour Scene
Ocean Colour Scene

While the early 90s spot light fell on Madchester the Charlatans formed in nearby Walsall, Ocean Colour Scene donned their Moseley shoals with Dodgy 'coming out for the summer' of Brit Pop. Rave and House dance acts also emanated from the city with Network Records bringing us Altern-8 and Detroit Techno.

Recent years have seen the rise of Jamelia, West Heath bard Mike Skinner, pop rockers the Editors and electro pioneers Broadcast. NME faves The Twang, who feature regularly on Jo Whiley’s Radio 1 sessions remain popular as do Mistys Big Adventure and the Guillemots (aka Fyfe Dangerfield).

Mistys Big Adventure
A pop art explosion...

It would be easy to imagine that these popular musicians emerged as islands of talent, cautiously peeping out amongst a sea of dirge, but this really has never been the case. For every Duran Duran there were dozens of bands doing the same thing, for every Mike Skinner there are hundreds of kids mashing up quality demo tapes.

John Peel gave a voice to this underground, and since his death a large void appeared which seems to have been filled in part by the recent popularity of Myspace, this offers rarely heard of demo tape artists a chance to reach a large audience in an instant… back this up with a resurgence of live music venues and you have 'a scene' reminiscent of the 60s beat era.

Tomorrows vanguards?

Mayday
Mayday

Indie rock bands to watch out for in 2007/8 include the likes of hard hitting Copter with their zany outfits and 50s sci-fi videos, The Scarlet Harlots play colourful, fast and furious indie and Johny Foreigner and Distophia take influence from California’s Pavement. Other popular groups are.. Envy & Other Sins, The Readymades, James Rea, The Computer Club, Sunset Cinema Club, Destroy Cowboy and Don’t Move, with the brilliant Mayday who could be described as a psychedelic Stone Roses-cum-Artic Monkeys.

Snorkie
Snorkie

The Mobsters, Attica State and Mr Derry stay more in line with Brum’s traditional heavy guitar riffs while dance acts range from Herbliss, DeWolfe, Jim Grin, Single Cell Productions, Slackers Delight, Soldat, The House Breakerz and Snorkie whose music is used by the BBC.

Cool Acid Jazz grooves come in the form of Sugarbeats who play the Yard Bird, Perry Hemus runs his own label and Munchbreak nice it up at the Rainbow in Digbeth.

Vincent Gould, John Nappier, Richard Burke, Vijay Kishore, Gary Nock and Ben Calvert are gaining recognition as gifted solo artists and Dub reggae lives on through Friendly Fire, Overproof, Jam Jah and G Corp who can be found in venues around Moseley.

Ben Ryan
Ben Ryan

Hip Hop holds very strong roots in Birmingham. Jump rap crew performed live on UK TV as early as 1980 with the city featuring heavily in 80s Graffiti documentary 'Bombing', today urban artists include Moorish Delta, Polar Bear, Nahomi Mighty, Ecks, Roc1, Madflow, Juice Aleem, Wayne Lotek, Sonny Jim, Percy Filth, EYEBS, Mr Dialysis and University of the King’s while Audio Dakoos and Juttla wave the flag for UK Drum n Bass, if Psychedelia is your thang… check out Betty and the ID, Seeland, Windscale, Black Egg, Kate Goes and The Courtesy Group.

Birmingham’s music scene has never looked healthier.

last updated: 25/04/07
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