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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.

 


Rock.

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.

 


Moody Blues

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.
 
 

 
Judas Priest


 

 

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.


Mellotron
Photo
www.mellotron.com


 

Reggae.

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.


UB40's Recording studio in Digbeth


 

New Romantic & Indie.

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.
 


Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran

 


 

Electronic.

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.
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.
 
Apache Indian
Apache Indian:
MOBO Unsung, at The Academy

Photo by Pogus
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
The Wonderstuff
The Editors
Napalm Death
Sneaker Pimps


 

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