Sunday, December 03, 2006

In The Dock: Birmingham's Musical Legacy

(If you're wondering what this is all about, then it's probably best if you click here before continuing onwards....)

This week's subject: Birmingham's Musical Legacy

The case for the prosecution (Alison)

I would like to declare at the outset that I am a Birmingham resident and pleased to be so. Thinking about writing this, I’ve been conscious of the fact that I don’t want to come across as a Brum-basher because it seems to me that Birmingham takes more than its fair share of abuse. However, I’ve decided that trying to be P.C. would be patronising and pointless; I reckon Birmingham’s musical legacy is pants and I’m ready to tell you why, decade by decade.

Birmingham is credited as the birthplace of heavy metal with bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest originating from Brum or nearby in the late 1960s. Leading bands in their field they may be, but what a bloody awful field! It’s always surprised me when friends with lots of music in common with me now declare themselves to be former metal heads, I find the whole genre completely inaccessible and inane. I’m not sure if the music is tuneless to my ears because it is/I am over/under complicated and I wouldn’t be able to pass comment on the lyrics having never paid them the attention apparently required. But perhaps the least appealing aspect is that the genre seems to go with that really weird and socially inappropriate hyper-enthusiastic personality type (think Wayne’s World) and that combined with a Brummie accent is just wrong.

In the 1970s Steel Pulse rose from the city’s West Indian population and won acclaim and even a Grammy, which is great. However, what followed were crimes against music: Pato Banton, Musical Youth and UB40. I’ll focus, if I may, on UB40. Now there’s no arguing that UB40 are popular, they’ve been going for three decades and have achieved #1 albums and singles in the UK and US, I just don’t get why. The quasi-reggae beats meandering along behind Ali Campbell’s stupid singing accent make for the most galling combination of sounds. They manage to turn Neil Diamond’s desperate plea for alcohol to numb the pain of losing a lover into cheery golden wedding anniversary disco music. How can it possibly take so many people to make such tedious music? Of course Birmingham blessed the 1970s musical landscape with other notable figures like the middle class punk Toyah Wilcox – though her appeal remains a “mythtery” to me. And let’s not forget everybody’s favourite Christmas glam-rockers: Wizzard and Slade.

On to the 80s and Duran Duran represented Birmingham in the new wave era. Apparently Duran Duran are to be admired currently, having reformed and toured to the delight of hoards of nostalgic thirtysomethings. I know it’s easy to reminisce fondly about the bands that provided the soundtrack to your formative years but, let’s be honest, they were a bit shit weren’t they? The posing seemed to take precedence over the music, with LeBon’s vocals straining painfully over feeble lyrics (e.g. Wild Boyz). And it’s not that all 80s music was just frivolous, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and many others managed to make songs that went a little deeper.

I have to admit that I enjoyed The Charlatans and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin as an enthusiastic indie teen, but I doubt I’d be willing or able to put up much of a fight in their defence now. And any reprieve for Brum in the 90s is blighted by the fact that the region bestowed Ocean Colour Scene on us: I can’t even level any specific criticisms against what must be dullest band in all of history.

I’m not going to pass opinion on Birmingham’s musical contribution in the current decade as I reckon legacy can only be judged retrospectively. I’m told that Birmingham is the International Bhangra Capital and, even if this isn’t my kind of music, it would be great to see the city making a big impression in a dynamic genre like this. Hopefully Mercury Music Prize nominees Editors and Guillemots will also leave their mark on the bands of the future. I guess we have to wait to see, but I’m willing to be optimistic.

The case for the defence (Ben)

OK, so Birmingham isn’t the first city that springs to mind when it comes to a significant musical legacy. It’s no New York or London. Both Manchester and Glasgow can boast a stronger heritage than Britain’s second city.

But Birmingham still has much in which to take pride.

Appropriately enough for a city which thrived as a hub of manufacturing activity following the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham was where metal was first forged. At a time when Ozzy Osbourne is best known for starring in a real-life soap opera, it’s hard to believe his band were once musical pioneers. Black Sabbath took blues music into new heavier and darker directions. In recent film ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey' their creative genius Tommy Iommi, composer of a disproportionate number of the Best Riffs Ever (‘Paranoid’, ‘War Pigs’, ‘Sweet Leaf’ and ‘Iron Man’ to name but four), may label the place he grew up, Aston, as “a shithole, basically”, but he also admits the formative influence of that environment upon their music. Iommi and Sabbath have in their turn influenced thousands.

Pursuing their own contemporaneous experiments with blues, meanwhile, were Led Zeppelin, who counted bona fide Brummies Robert Plant and John Bonham among their number. Achieving a near-perfect balance between technical virtuosity and visceral thrills, the foursome can justifiably claim to have invented stadium rock and, together with tour manager Richard Cole, to have taken the backstage shenanigans of The Rolling Stones much, much further – their on-tour activities involving drugs, alcohol, groupies and fish… But as this is explicitly about Birmingham’s musical legacy, just take a listen to the beginning of ‘Good Times Bad Times’, the first track on their 1969 debut Led Zeppelin I, and marvel at the contributions of Plant and Bonham.

And Birmingham’s legacy of decimation by decibel doesn’t end there. If Sabbath are the godfathers of stoner and doom, then fellow West Midlanders Judas Priest are the godfathers of speed metal. In quickening the pace and camping up the outfits, Rob Halford and co paved the way for Iron Maiden and proved that ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Better that than nondescript.

Even faster and significantly more brutal than Judas Priest are Napalm Death. Since forming in 1982, they have become synonymous with grindcore, an intense and unholy concoction of hardcore punk, death metal and industrial. Crucially, their influence has gone beyond the boundaries of metal; Atari Teenage Riot and the artists on Alec Empire’s Digital Hardcore label owe them a significant debt.

So, if you’ve ever had a metal phase, you owe it to Birmingham to vote against the prosecution. But even if the thought of sweaty, hairy, beefy men fills you with horror, you should still find Birmingham innocent. Why? A few reasons…

Firstly, Dexys Midnight Runners. If you’re sniggering because all you know of Dexys’ recorded output is ‘Come On Eileen’, to which you’ve been exposed at countless wedding receptions, then stop it. Too-Rye-Ay and all that gypsy schtick was shit, granted, but debut album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels – recorded with an almost entirely different line-up and featuring unspeakably ace #1 single ‘Geno’ – is brilliant, Northern Soul infused with the spirit and social conscience of punk.

Searching… revealed a degree of affinity with The Specials and 2-Tone, hailing from down the road in Coventry, and Birmingham can lay claim to their modern-day equivalent. Original Pirate Material saw Mike Skinner setting out as a keen-eyed, sharp-tongued social commentator; the streets he writes about might be in South London, but his formative years were spent in West Heath.

As a cultural melting-pot, Birmingham has long been a focal point for distinctive musical movements – whether for the politically-minded roots reggae of bands like Steel Pulse and Musical Youth in the 70s and 80s (it’s worth mentioning that UB40’s debut is in a similar vein), or, more recently, for the bhangra / desi beat scene which has Coventry-born Jay-Z collaborator Panjabi MC at its head but Birmingham at its heart.

Rather than risk sounding like a trying-to-be-hip dad, or pretending to know much about what lies beyond my radar, I’ll just say that there are clearly exciting things afoot in Birmingham. There’s no need to live in the past – Brum’s musical legacy is currently being made. Editors, Jamelia, Broadcast and Mistys Big Adventure are all doing the city proud, and if NME is to be believed, there’s a whole crop of Brummie bands just waiting to take on the world. Bostin!


* * * * *

Thanks to Alison and to Ben. Now it's over to you to decide if Birmingham is guilty as charged or unjustly accused. YOU decide. The comments box is now open and awaiting your verdicts.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you have until Friday to make up your minds...

40 Comments:

Blogger Damo said...

The prosecution wants to damn Birmingham's musical legacy - and mentions SLADE in the process?

Not guilty.

6:34 pm  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

I must admit that while my initial reaction was "fuck you Alison and your stupid opinion" I think I'm going to have to agree with her and would like to apologise for that uncalled for outburst. Birmingham's musical legacy is rather pants (Ocean Colour Scene topping my personal shit-list). But I'd make a distinction between the legacy and the actual music that goes on here which is frequently unique, wonderful and deserving of wider recognition. Except it'll never get it because Legacy is something defined by frequently pandering to a lowest common denominator (or, in the case of metal, a niche in a bubble). If you were to count the likes of Broadcast then Alison would so be in the wrong, but you can't because the world is wired stupid. When the world gets wired right then Birmingham will have a legacy to be proud of and Manchester will be shown for the shallow... okay, for being not quite as good as people say it is but still not bad. In the meanwhile we're stuck with UBfucking40, and not the period when they were reasonably good (first couple of albums if you're interested).

In short, guilty but blame the culture, not the bands.

6:40 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Quelle surprise - two of the bands I was determined to airbrush out (Duran Duran and Ocean Colour Scene) are crucial to the prosecution's case...

Something I would have added to my case had I had the space (but of course this is inadmissible): I feel the prosecution has gone after the wrong city / region. Surely my very own North East is far more deserving of prosecution when it comes to music legacy? Sting, The Lighthouse Family, Lindisfarne, Dire Straits... It's only very recently that it's started to turn out decent bands - The Futureheads, Maximo Park, Field Music, Yourcodenameis:milo - but it's too early to say whether their output will constitute a significant legacy.

7:18 pm  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

Probably worth pointing out that Robert Plant was from West Bromwich which is not Birmingham, though Ozzy was born in Aston so he counts.

Ned Atomic Dustbin are from Stourbridge which, again, is not Birmingham.

Judas Priest were from "the northwest Midlands, near Birmingham" (Wikipedia isn't specific).

7:25 pm  
Blogger James said...

As not guilty as not guilty gets.

I'm sorry but Alison was onto a loser with this one from the start. If all we had to work with were Sabbath's first four LPs, I would still be calling for a conditional discharge.

Let's get this straight, much awfulness has fallen from the midlands, but the same and worse has fallen from every city that could claim any musical contribution.

Anyway, Alison's argument is flawed. To sum it up: she doesn't like the fans of the music, UB40 murdered 'Red Red Wine', Toyah is middle class, Slade did a Christmas record, Duran Duran were a bit shit compared to Talking Heads etc. and Ocean Colour Scene were dull. For good measure, let's throw in Pete's criticism: people seem to like the crap bits.

All of this might be true (especially the OCS bit), but I fail to see its relevance. We could make equivalent statements about any city, but we wouldn't dream of making the claim about NY or London.

However, I am not convinced that their arguments are sufficiently true (except for the OCS stuff). Every genre has its fair share of wierd and socially unfortunate fans, but not liking or understanding a genre is not a reason to dismiss either it or its origin. 'Red Red Wine' was pretty rough, but compared to 'Rat in Mi Kitchen' its bloody Mozart. And anyway, all crimes by UB40 are excused on the basis of 'Food for Thought' and '1 in 10' anyway. Duran Duran might not have been as good as some of their contemporaries, but similarly they were better than others. And again, those guys wrote 'Come Undone', which is a bloody good song, by anyone's reckoning. Finally, taking in the opinion of the public is a dangerous game, given their (our) innate fickleness (cf. Matthew Kelly).

On the plus side, Birmingham (and the Midlands) has been the source of so much innovation - most of which Ben has mentioned.

Not only should this trial be dismissed but the prosection should be ordered to pay costs.

7:59 pm  
Blogger JonnyB said...

Not really sure about this one?!? The Birmingham 'Legacy' was surely The Move/Roy Wood/Wizzard/ELO/Moody Blues and all that, if you're talking about 'scenes' rather than just picking individual bands that you like or dislike. And a lot of the sixties folk explosion was based around Birmingham.

I always thought Heavy Metal was a general West Midlands thing, but am happy to be corrected on this. Led Zeppelin were formed by a bloke from Middlesex who wrote all the songs and produced all the records, famously getting a bloke from Birmingham to sing only as a reluctant second choice.

So - well - on the basis that 'Fire Brigade' is possibly the most embarrassing song ever to still be played occasionally on national radio, Guilty. But the Crown Prosecution Service almost blew this one for me.

9:36 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

I was already leaning towards guilty, and Pete's point re: Broadcast convinced me totally.

Yes, I love Black Sabbath (and what's wrong with Duran Duran, hmm?), but the legacy of the place (as opposed to the music) is pretty poisonous. Throw away the key!

11:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the Defense, definitely for the defense.
Just for Duran Duran it has to be worth it.
It's evidence of how much I have grown as a person that I can admit that love in public!
But the city is so much more. About time we all stood up and said so.

Fictions

11:39 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Pete: The definition of "Birmingham" was always liable to slippage in my hands...

Ian: Pete's point about Broadcast is indeed very astute. Ooops, shouldn't be saying that out loud...

JonnyB: True, Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin and wrote the songs - but surely you can't deny that the West Midlands half of the band weren't crucial to their success?

12:02 am  
Anonymous caskared said...

Not guilty. I'm not saying that because I'm from Rugby - I don't know anyone who is from the Midlands and actually proud of it so this isn't a regional pride thing.

Being over in Rugby, we were always aware of just how much music was being made in Brum and how lots had actualy broken through and made it big. Us at the Warwickshire border always headed towards Brum, Cov and Wolverhampton, rarely Northampton or Leicester. The club nights - atomic jam and mod nights in The Ship Ashore were talked about over in Rugby in tones of awe (yes it was a small town). Heavy metal is how we found the way to the good stuff. In other words, its legacy drew us and generations of other bored Rugby fold towards Birmingham.

And I agree with Ben: Geno is tops! And Jamelia (although I'm still not sure about her personal jesus) and The Streets and...and...but yeah, Allison is right on UB40 being pretty terrible and Ocean Colour Scene being, ugh I don't want to think about them...but all in all not guilty.

9:04 am  
Blogger JonnyB said...

Ben: Oh - of course they were crucial. I guess my point was that the band didn't emerge from Birmingham as a place. So it's rotten cheating to include them.

9:32 am  
Blogger mike said...

Um, and The Charlatans are from Northwich. In Cheshire. Which is also Not Birmingham.

Never having been through a "metal phase" myself, I could cheerfully live without the Sabbath/Led Zep legacy - which knocks out the strongest plank of the defence's already threadbare case. (Same goes for Napalm Death, I'm afraid.)

A better case could have been made for the Roy Wood/Jeff Lynne legacy, particularly in the light of ELO's recent cultural rehabilitation - but, give or take the debut album from The Feeling, even that doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things.

Mike Skinner? A great debut, but he's been on a steady decline ever since - and anyway, didn't he move to London years ago?

Duran Duran? I would argue that their influence has not been a benign one.

Guilty, guilty, guilty.

11:12 am  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Of course, I'd never let a single song or band sway my vote in a million years, but I'm afraid that "Parnoid" is good enough to redeem Birmingham all on its own - never mind the rest of Sabbath's output. You might not like it, but Black Sabbath's (and therefore Birmingham's) influence on music has been vast. There are whole swathes of music that owe a massive debt to them. It might not all be to your taste, but there's no denying that they have been influential. I'm pretty sure you could argue a case for Sabbath being amongst the most influential bands in history, couldn't you?

Resoundingly not guilty - I'm totally unconvinced by the prosecution case and I also feel mildy insulted by her stereotypes! Mind you, I *did* go through a heavy metal phase, so perhaps it's because I have a "really weird and socially inappropriate hyper-enthusiastic personality type"?

I'm no great fan of UB40, but how can a city that can produce the mighty Apache Indian be all bad? I also don't think Duran Duran are all that awful are they? "Ordinary World" is a great song, for starters.

I'm originally from Northampton, by the way, so perhaps it's midlands bias coming into play again?

ST

(mind you - as pointed out above, I think Birmingham is pushing it's luck with bands like the charlatans and the streets... and even Robert Plant is from Wolverhampton, isn't he?)

1:18 pm  
Blogger jonathan said...

Hmm, this one's really confusing - will have to vote with the defence, although I don't agree with either.

Alison's piece alienates me - she may rightly laud Steel Pulse, whose 'Handsworth Revolution' is one of the best british albums of all time, but then writes them off as a mere precursor to UB40. That's a bit like blaming Bob Marley for Shaggy. Equally, she dismisses Duran Duran (who I love) and Slade (who were tremendous fun). Not much to convince me there.

Then Ben tells me the city brought us Black Sabbath (who I hate), Led Zeppelin (who I hate), Judas Priest (who I hate) and Misty's Big Adventure (OK, they're ace). He even dismisses late period Dexy's (which is plain insane).

So, ignoring both arguments, it's an easy vote for the defence - Dexy's, Steel Pulse, Felt, Benjamin Zephaniah, Duran Duran. Easy.

1:36 pm  
Blogger jonathan said...

quick note about The Charlatans - if I remember correctly only Tim Burgess is from Northwich; the rest are indeed Brummies. And Tim only joined shortly before they released the excellent 'Indian Rope' EP, so they were a functioning Birmingham group until then. So add them to my list of reasons to like the place, then.

6:30 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Whoa there. Just to clarify - I never claimed The Charlatans for Birmingham. Think they're shit anyway...

Mike: Fair dos. If you've never had a metal phase, however short, then I guess that means you can dismiss much of my case.

Jonathan: To think, I set up this very collaborative music blog in conjunction with a man who doesn't like Black Sabbath... And I wasn't dismissing proper late period Dexys, only the second album. Their third album Don't Stand Me Down is endearing in its sheer bloodymindedness.

6:55 pm  
Blogger jonathan said...

Think the mention of The Charlatans came from the prosecution. Most of their output is weedy, but their first single and second album were lovely, and they had a brief, successful, strangely rhythmic period too. Tim Burgess used to talk obsessively about the Wu Tang Clan in interviews long before they were fashionable in indie circles. Not a great band, but not a shit one either.

Point taken about Dexys, although I like the second album too. Black Sabbath, though, sorry, can't do it... Nothing about them in particular, but my metal phase occurred too briefly and too early in my life for me to discover the 'greats' - so the only rock bands I have affection for are the ones I listened to when I was about ten. And that was basically AC/DC, Iron Maiden and, erm, Def Leppard. And only the first would I happily listen to now. Thankfully Guns and Roses, who my friends loved and I just hated, killed my interest in metal. Ah well.

11:29 pm  
Anonymous mark-reed said...

Even though I hate Duran Duran, for reasons I can never fully explain, I think Birmingham's contribution to the music scene is far and above, beyond prosecution. I vote for the Midlands!

11:38 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Duran Duran = poster boys for Thatcherism.

Note to self: must not undermine own case, must not undermine own case...

12:10 am  
Blogger Martin said...

UB40?

PWEI!

Not guilty. Not even close.

12:13 am  
Anonymous Jez said...

Black Sabbath alone bulldozes everything else out of the way. Even if you didn't have a metal phase, their influence is too enormous to be denied.

Godflesh - this city gave us Godflesh.

And Toyah. I was 11 and her appeal was no mythtery to me. AH!

Can I just put in a word for Ocean Colour Scene. They, like Reef, fill a valuable and essentially harmless sing-a-long niche for blokes like me who have a limited vocal range. Before I worked that out, it was source of genuine puzzlement to me that I owned two of their albums.

Not guilty.

10:09 am  
Blogger Paul said...

Ben,

How can you refer to cities of musical influence and ignore Liverpool?

Anyway, to the debate in hand, Ben's metal phase argument is quite good, but equally Alison's most of Birmingham's bands are shit argument aslo has merit.

In the end, Ben's desperate metaphorical scrabble down the back of the sofa to find something of substance to broaden out his argument led him to Mike Skinner, and once his hand clasped that particular piece of mouldy cheese and held it aloft as though he had instead found a winning lottery ticket, the prosecution took my vote.

3:21 pm  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

Well, my initial thought was to go with the prosecution, as I couldnt care less if you made all that metal stuff disappear completely. Plus, I am pretty confident I could live without UB40.

However, and wholly despite Ben's argument (with the exception of the Editors and the Guillemots he doesn't mention a band I like) I will vote for the defence mainly for Duran Duran who I really don't think you can ignore.

And I really like "The Day We Caught The Train".

Alison - hoisted by your own petard, sadly.

And imagine how dull Christmas would be without Birmingham. No Roy Wood? No Slade?....

12:28 am  
Anonymous Russ L said...

In an effort to not get e-blood up the walls, I'm not going to get drawn into this one deeply.

Listing a string of bands would be Accuse me of West Midlands bias all you will, but for me (avoiding listing a string of band names) the good outweighs the bad by about 381,789 tons. I vote for the defence. And with gritted teeth I'll stop there.

(Well, alright, one more thing - No-one seems to have too clear an idea whether they mean 'Birmingham,' 'Birmingham And Black Country' or 'West Midlands' so far. It's defense for any of the three as far as I'm concerned, but defining that a bit more clearly might help some waverers make their mind up either way).

7:11 am  
Anonymous Russ L said...

I really wish you could edit the comments on Blogger. Ignore the first seven words of my second paragraph, there.

I did not know that the Guillemots were from Birmingham, incidentally. How'bout that.

7:15 am  
Blogger Ben said...

Lord B: I didn't mention Guillemots, but should have done.

A bit disconcerted by all these votes for the defence on the strength of Ocean Colour Scene, but beggars can't be choosers...

9:48 am  
Blogger Betty said...

I'm confused here - Birmingham's musical legacy includes Wolverhampton's Slade, Stourbridge's Pop Will Eat Itself, Mike Skinner who has lived in London since childhood, The Charlatans who are made up of blokes from Walsall and Cheshire (no ... hang on ... weren't they a Madchester band?), The Editors (according to their website, only the bass player is remotely Brummie - he's from Solihull)?

Still, it's difficult to defend local scenes, because there's always imput from musicians who are not necessarily local (bands forming at universities and so on).

I suppose despite all this, and despite the huge burdens of Ocean Colour Scene and Bloody Duran Duran, I'm going to have to go with the defence. Of the bands/musicians that have come from Birmingham (or the West Midlands even) I'd say that there's one common denominator: they're not bothered about fashion, and just get on with their own thing. To be from the West Midlands is to be judged as terminally uncool in most people's eyes, so why bother?

I should put in a good word for Lawrence of Felt/Denim/Go Kart Mozart sort-of-fame, and Robert Lloyd of The Prefects and Nightingales (well, actually, he's from Cannock. Good place to be from, Cannock. Not that I'm biased). Anyway, a couple of maverick outsider characters who always did/do their own thing.

Oh, and kudos to everyone for not mentioning "that fraightful common Birmingham accent - absolutely dreadful!" or thick clodhopping greasy bikers who are still stuck in the 1970's and drink Watney's Ale.

10:47 am  
Anonymous Nick The Snick said...

The 'legacy' of a certain city/scene is always adaptable to your own tastes, it's all down to who you see as being important or influencial. You can base the legacy of a whole town on just one band you like, anything you dislike can be easily ignored or deemed irrelevant.

I can quite happily endorse the musical history of Birmingham without OCS or UB40 even coming into the equation.

Good shout for Lawrence/Denim, had totally forgotten about him.....

Defence all the way.

12:55 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

Betty: Yes!

12:59 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

slag off heavy metal all you like, Lord B, but I know who was down the Salutation on Saturday night grooving on down like a good'un!

Was that 2 weekends in a row?

ST

(or it might have been the Olde Trippe - I can't recall, but you catch my drift...)

7:30 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

It's probably a bit late to reinforce the defence but I don't think my previous four-letter justification entirely summed up what I meant.

Betty: You're right; the West Midlands has an image of no-nonsense and no glamour which I think is part of its attraction. The general attitude of most of the guitar-based artists mentioned here is probably best summed up by Slade - Get Down, Get With It. Most of the previous In The Dock discussions have involved attempts at defining the subject under consideration and I think it's fair to say that when a lot of people say 'Birmingham' they mean 'somewhere in the West Midlands.' I'm pretty sure that not every band dubbed as being from Manchester was formed within the sound of Salford Lads Club, after all.

Sure, the West Midlands has produced its fair share of crap but as coolness has never been part of the equation (with the possible exception of Duran Duran who tried much too hard) being crap matters less than it would in other regional scenes. That alone makes it noteworthy. For the metal dissenters, John Bonham remains one of the most sampled drummers in the world despite being dead for over a quarter of a century, Julian Cope was brought up in Tamworth and Goldie in Wolverhampton. I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned The Wonderstuff yet. It wasn't just me who bought their records, was it?

At this late stage in the debate I feel safe to mention Jas Mann (Dudley/Wolverhampton) who only got to number one with 'Spaceman' off the back of the ten seconds of the song that were any good being in a Levi's TV advert, and Pete Waterman (Coventry). I'm sure he's not got many fans here but he used to work for Stiff Records and while he mastered mass-produced pap, at least he appears to believe in his output as opposed to, say Simon Cowell who'd release a recording of his mother's bowel movements for a tenner.

There aren't that many regions that have managed such diversity over a prolonged period of time so well while not appearing to be bothered, and while it's easy to compare 'Birmingham' to, say, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, let's not forget regions such as the East Midlands; Stereo MCs, Paper Lace, umm, Kasabian and precious little else. I think Su Pollard released a single once.

Lennon said his band was bigger than Jesus, Morrissey said that he was human and he needed to be loved. Ozzy said "Bubbles! Oh come on Sharon! I'm fucking Ozzy Osbourne, I'm the Prince of fucking Darkness. What's fucking evil about a shitload of bubbles?"

None more innocent.

12:50 am  
Blogger Ben said...

I feel I should point out that not mentioning Felt in the defence was down to my ignorance rather than any deliberate attempt to avoid raising their spectre lest it harm my case (as was true of Ocean Colour Scene and Duran Duran). I should investigate further.

Betty / Martin: I set out with the assumption that "Birmingham" would be interpreted relatively liberally. Cheeky perhaps, but as Alison seems to have done the same thing (ie mentioning Led Zeppelin) then I think it's fair enough.

1:18 am  
Blogger Martin said...

Please can everyone stop mentioning Ocean Colour Scene. I might change my mind.

1:52 am  
Blogger Betty said...

Ben, no worries, the only reason I mentioned Felt and The Nightingales is because I'm really old and I can just about remember them from my long distant youth. Incidentally, as one of the old 'uns, I'm sad to see that no mention has been made of hilarious Black Country comedy duo, Aynuk and Ayli!

(right, I'm off to make a mug of Complan and watch a Last Of The Summer Wine DVD now).

9:59 am  
Blogger Phill said...

Let's get something clear here. Noddy Holder is from Walsall!!!!!
What a great town Walsall is. And so are half the Charlatans so we won't mention that, plus Boy George talks about getting mugged there the the way to his nan's in his autobiography.

There are a lot of whys and wherefore's about which bands are actually brummie and which bands aren't.

All you need to know is PATO BANTON.

Everybody now:

"Come back
Baby, come back
Come back
Baby, come back"

Innocent!

5:50 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

A quote from Fuzzbox
"We're a Birmingham band; so are Duran Duran, UB40 and Led Zepplin. There are a lot of bands from here because there isn't really much else to do in Birmingham. If you don't look normal, there's nowhere you can get info, except for a couple of nightclubs."
from Interview July 1987 -found this old magazine on my kitchen table so though I'd throw this in...

7:32 am  
Anonymous David of the West said...

What no mention of Washwood Heaths greatest living poet ? Recent pop collaborations aside (although some of those weren't too bad), what about Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time ? He will probably be "discovered" as a genius songwriter by half the universe in twenty years time. He has also managed to incorporate reference to numerous Birmingham landmarks into his songs - Paradise Circus, Corporation Street and New Street Station being just a few. Anyone not sure should go and buy Astronauts, I love my friends or Looking for a day in the night. If you are not won over you are deaf.

4:25 pm  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

I thought Pat O'Banton was Irish?

5:17 pm  
Anonymous Over and over said...

A word of defense about Duran Duran. Not only did they write Ordinary World which is like the Imagine of our times but they have a load of non-singles that anyone with a shred of taste could not ignore. Even musically they were awesome, their guitarists have had the praise of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai and their lyrics were more complex than Depeche Mode's teen angsty "I think God's got a sick sense of humour." Consider their 80's singles, they didn't even sing love songs. Union of the snake? References to tantric sex, the dark side of human nature and the Illuminati? Poster boys of Thaterism indeed. Their critics are more blinded by image than the band supposedly were.

4:06 pm  
Anonymous Ozzie said...

I'd say that Steel Pulse has a lot to do with Brum's musical legacy...I lived in Bristol at the time and heard about the Handsworth disturbances, got into the Pulse and took it from there. Good to see this film for the first time - puts a few things in perspective.


The 1985 Handsworth Riots, UK- Pogus Caesar - BBC1 TV . Inside Out.

Broadcast 25 Oct 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey7ijaXv6UQ

Black History UK: In 1985 racial tension and community discontentment escalated into the historical Handsworth riots that rocked Birmingham, England between 9th - 11th September 1985.

Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar knows Handsworth well. He found himself in the centre of the riots and spent two days capturing a series of startling images. Caesar kept them hidden for 20 years. Why? And how does he see Handsworth now?.

The stark black and white photographs featured in the film provide a rare, valuable and historical record of the raw emotion, heartbreak and violence that unfolded during those dark and fateful days in September 1985.

12:38 pm  

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