Music Wiki

Popular music of Birmingham

Birmingham's culture of popular music first developed in the mid-1950s. By the early 1960s the city's music scene had emerged as one of the largest and most vibrant in the country; a "seething cauldron of musical activity",[1] with over 500 bands constantly exchanging members and performing regularly across a well-developed network of venues and promoters.[2] By 1963 the city's music was also already becoming recognised for what would become its defining characteristic: the refusal of its musicians to conform to any single style or genre.[3] Birmingham's tradition of combining a highly collaborative culture with an open acceptance of individualism and experimentation dates back as far back as the 18th century,[4] and musically this has expressed itself in the wide variety of music produced within the city, often by closely related groups of musicians, from the "rampant eclecticism" of the Brum beat era, to the city's "infamously fragmented" post-punk scene, to the "astonishing range" of distinctive and radical electronic music produced in the city from the 1980s to the early 21st century.[5]

This diversity and culture of experimentation has made Birmingham a fertile birthplace of new musical styles, many of which have gone on to have a global influence. During the 1960s the Spencer Davis Group combined influences from folk, jazz, blues and soul and to create a wholly new rhythm and blues sound[6] that "stood with any of the gritty hardcore soul music coming out of the American South",[7] while The Move laid the way for the distinctive sound of English psychedelia by "putting everything in pop up to that point in one ultra-eclectic sonic blender".[8] Heavy metal was born in the city in the early 1970s by combining the melodic pop influence of Liverpool, the high volume guitar-based blues sound of London and compositional techniques from Birmingham's own jazz tradition.Template:Sfn Bhangra emerged from the Balsall Heath area in the 1960s and 1970s with the addition of western musical influences to traditional Punjabi music.[9] The ska revival grew out of the West Midlands uniquely multi-racial musical culture.Template:Sfn Grindcore was born in Sparkbrook from fusing the separate influences of extreme metal and hardcore punk.[10] Techno's Birmingham sound combined the established sound of Detroit techno with the influence of Birmingham's own industrial music and post-punk culture.[11]

Early Rock and RollEdit

Interest in rock and roll developed in Birmingham in the mid-1950s, after American recordings such as Bill Haley & His Comets' 1954 singles "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Rock Around the Clock"; and Elvis Presley's 1956 singles "Hound Dog" and "Blue Suede Shoes" began to appear on British airwaves.

Many performers who would be influential in the later growth of Birmingham music emerged during this era. Danny King had been receiving American blues and soul recordings by mail order from the United States since 1952, and soon afterwards began to perform covers of songs by artists such as Big Joe Turner in pubs such as The Gunmakers in the Jewellery Quarter. In 1957 he formed Danny King and the Dukes with Clint Warwick, performing rhythm and blues covers in local clubs and cinemas. Tex Detheridge and the Gators began performing Hank Williams covers on Saturday nights at The Mermaid in Sparkhill and on Sundays at the Bilberry Tea Rooms in Rednal in early 1956. The emergence of skiffle as a popular phenomenon in 1956 saw the birth of a new wave of Birmingham bands. The Vikings started as a skiffle group in Nechells in the spring 1957, with Pat Wayne and the Deltas also emerging as a skiffle group in Ladywood around the same time, spending the summer of 1957 busking on pleasure boats on the River Severn in Worcester.

The Brum Beat eraEdit

By the 1960s Birmingham had become the home of a popular music scene comparable to that of Liverpool: despite producing no one band as big as The Beatles the city was a "seething cauldron of musical activity", with several hundred groups whose memberships, names and musical activities were in a constant state of flux.[1] The New Musical Express calculated that in 1964 there were over 500 groups operating within the city.[2] Birmingham was a bigger and more diverse city than Liverpool, however, that was never subject to a single controlling influence such as that exercised by Liverpool's Brian Epstein; and as a result Birmingham's bands never conformed to a single homogenous sound comparable to Liverpool's Merseybeat.[12] Instead the city's music was characterised by a "rampant eclecticism", its style ranging from traditional blues, rock and roll and rhythm and blues through to folk, folk rock, psychedelia and soul,[12] with its influence extending into the 1970s and beyond.[1]

It was in 1963 and 1964 that Birmingham's existing largely underground music scene began to attract national and international attention. The first single to be released commercially by a Birmingham band was "Sugar Baby" by Jimmy Powell and The Dimensions, released by Decca on March 23, 1962.[2] The first Birmingham-based band to have a Top 10 hit were The Applejacks, who signed to Decca in late 1963 and whose debut single "Tell Me When" reached number 7 in the UK Singles Chart in February 1964.[13] The Rockin' Berries made the Top 50 in September 1964 with "I Didn't Mean to Hurt You" and reached number 3 in October with "He's in Town", both songs featuring the distinctive falsetto vocals of Geoff Turton. The Fortunes had their 1964 recording "Caroline" adopted as its theme song by the pirate radio station Radio Caroline,[14] and followed this with three major international hits in 1965 – "You've Got Your Troubles", a top 10 hit in both the UK and the US, "Here It Comes Again" and "This Golden Ring".[15] The Uglys achieved a sizeable Australian hit, "Wake Up My Mind," in 1965.[2] The Ivy League, founded by the Small Heath-born songwriting partnership of John Carter and Ken Lewis, had three UK hits in 1965: "Funny How Love Can Be", "That's Why I'm Crying" and "Tossing And Turning".[16]

In early 1964 Dial Records and Decca both released compilation albums showcasing the breadth of the Birmingham music scene.[2] The sleeve notes to the Decca compilation emphasised that Birmingham's characteristic musical diversity was already becoming clear: "But is there a Brum sound? This album surely proves beyond doubt that the answer is no. The reason: all the city’s groups, including those heard on this LP, are striving to achieve some degree of individuality."[17]

The most consistently successful Birmingham group of this era was The Spencer Davis Group, which fused its members' varied backgrounds in folk, blues, jazz and soul into a wholly new rhythm and blues sound[6] that "stood with any of the gritty hardcore soul music coming out of the American South".[7] Driven by the "astoundingly soulful"[7] vocals of the young Steve Winwood, accompanied by his own searing keyboard style,[18] the pounding bass riffs of his brother Muff Winwood, the jazz-influenced drumming of Pete York and the then-unique electric fuzz guitar effect of Spencer Davis,[19] the band started off playing R&B covers but achieved their greatest success with their own compositions.[18] Chris Blackwell of Island Records signed the band on the spot after hearing them at the Golden Eagle pub on Hill Street in April 1964, and after four minor hits in late 1964 and early 1965 they broke through with their late 1965 single "Keep on Running", which knocked The Beatles off the number 1 position in the UK in January 1966.[20] Two more UK hit singles followed during 1966 alongside two highly successful albums, before the November 1966 release of their own composition "Gimme Some Loving" – the group's masterpiece and one of the great recordings of the 1960s.[6] This and its 1967 Winwood-written follow up "I'm a Man" were top 10 hits on both sides of the Atlantic[6] selling over a million copies and adding a huge fanbase in America to their existing European popularity.[20]

The Moody Blues were also originally primarily an R&B band, formed in May 1964 with musicians from other Birmingham bands including El Riot & the Rebels, Denny and the Diplomats, Danny King and the Dukes and Gerry Levene and the Avengers.[21] By November they had secured a major international hit with their multi-million selling single "Go Now", which reached number 1 in the UK and number 10 in the US, and whose "soulful, agonized" vocal performance established lead singer Denny Laine as one of the most recognisable voices in British music.[22] Although at this stage still within the R&B tradition, the music of the early Moody Blues already showed signs of the more experimental approach that would characterise their later career, with highly original musical compositions by Laine and Mike Pinder; live four-part harmonies that were far more expansive than anything used by bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies or The Dave Clark Five at the time; and the zen-like repetition and rhythmic complexity of their piano parts prefiguring their future psychedelic style.[23]

The television programme Thank Your Lucky Stars, broadcast by ABC Television from its studios in Aston between 1961 and 1966, was a major showcase for British pop music of the period, hosting the network television debut of The Beatles on 13 January 1963. The show was best known for its catchphrase "Oi'll give it foive!", which entered nationwide consciousness as sixteen year-old West Bromwich-born Janice Nicholls gave her verdict on the week's singles in Spin-a-Disc in her broad Black Country accent.[24]

Folk revivalEdit

Fairport Convention - TopPop 1972 7

Dave Swarbrick and Dave Pegg performing with Fairport Convention in 1972

Research by folk music scholars recorded a rich tradition of folk-songs from the West Midlands as late as the 1960s, including songs being performed by local traditional singers such as Cecilia Costello and George Dunn entirely within an oral tradition, and songs documented by other folk music collectors over the previous 70 years.[25] These included songs of social protest and songs of everyday life referring to places in and around the city, and reflected the area's underlying native rural traditions, its industrial culture and the influence of successive waves of incomers bringing and assimilating musical traditions from elsewhere.[25]

Ian Campbell, who moved to Birmingham from Aberdeen as a teenager, was one of the most important figures of the British folk revival during the early 1960s. During the 1950s he fell under the influence of the Marxist Birmingham writer George Thomson and in 1956 founded the Ian Campbell Folk Group, initially as a skiffle group, but from 1958 performing politically-charged folk songs including Fenian and Jacobite songs, and songs of miners, industrial workers and farmworkers.[26] The group's 1962 record Ceilidh at the Crown was the first live folk club recording ever to be released, and in 1965 they were the first group outside the United States to record a Bob Dylan song, when their cover of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" reached the UK top 50.[27] Campbell also ran the Jug o' Punch Folk Song Club, originally at The Crown in Station Street, but later at the Digbeth Civic Hall on Thursday nights.[28] This was arguably the most important folk club in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, and certainly the largest, attracting an audience that regularly reached 500 people a week.[29] Other notable Birmingham folk clubs during the mid-1960s included the Eagle Folk Club at the Golden Eagle on Hill Street and the Skillet Pot Club above the Old Contemptibles on Livery Street.

Armatrading in Dublin

Joan Armatrading

Two Birmingham musicians from the Ian Campbell Folk Group would become key exponents in the development of folk rock over the next decade through their involvement with the band Fairport Convention, which had formed in London in 1967. Fiddler Dave Swarbrick joined the band in 1969, his knowledge of traditional music becoming the biggest single influence on the following album Liege & Lief,[30] generally considered the most important album both of Fairport Convention as a band and of the folk rock genre as a whole.[31] Swarbrick's former colleague from the Ian Campbell Folk Group Dave Pegg joined the as bass player later in 1969, and by 1972 the two Birmingham musicians were the band's only remaining members, holding the group together over the following years of rapid personnel change.[32]

Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading was the first British woman to have significant commercial success in the field of folk music[33] and the first Black British woman to enjoy international success in any musical genre.[34] Born on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts, she brought up from the age of 7 in the Brookfields area of Handsworth.[35] In 1972 she released her debut album Whatever's for Us and recorded the first of her eight Peel Sessions,[36] but her commercial breakthrough in Britain was 1976's Joan Armatrading, which reached the top 20 and which included top 10 hit "Love and Affection".

Nick Drake (1971)

Nick Drake

Of all of the folk musicians from the Birmingham area, the one with the greatest long-term influence would be Nick Drake, who was brought up from 1952 in the commuter village of Tanworth-in-Arden – five miles outside the city's boundaries in Warwickshire – the son of the Chairman and Managing Director of the Wolseley Engineering company in Birmingham's Adderley Park.[37] Drake completed his education at a tutorial college in Birmingham's Five Ways, from where he won a scholarship to study English literature at Cambridge.[38] Having had a musical childhood, with a mother who wrote songs and performed them on the piano,[39] at Cambridge Drake began himself to write and perform his own compositions.[40] In 1968 he was discovered by Joe Boyd, who signed a contract with him as his manager, agent, publisher and producer, later recalling "The clarity and strength of his talent were striking ... his guitar technique was so clean it took a while to realize how complex it was. Influences were detectable here and there, but the heart of the music was mysteriously original".[41] Over the following two years Drake recorded and released two albums – Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter – of understated but harmonically-complex songs that owed as much to jazz as to folk traditions,[42] but which sold poorly, partly due to his acute shyness and increasing reluctance to perform live.[43] Drake slipped into a period of introversion and depression, returning to his parent's home in Tanworth, from where he was to record his bleak final album Pink Moon.[44] On the 25 November 1974 he died in his sleep in Tanworth from an overdose of antidepressants, with the only media coverage being a personal announcement in the Birmingham Post three days later.[45]

Virtually unknown at his death, Drake has since become one of the greatest examples of an artist achieving posthumous fame and influence.[42] The journalist Ian MacDonald wrote how "During the eighties I drifted away from the music scene. When I returned, I was surprised to find that Nick Drake was becoming famous. Like most of those (make that all of those) who'd known him in whatever way, I'd got used to thinking of him as a private thing, an artist relegated to the exclusive periphery, one for the connoisseur."[46] By the 1980s Drake's work had gained a cult audience, which grew throughout the 1990s and by the 2000s has reached a point of widespread fame.[47] With an influence extending from alternative rock to free jazz,[42] and including figures as diverse as R.E.M., Radiohead, David Gray and Beth Orton, the actors Brad Pitt and Heath Ledger and the film director Sam Mendes,[48] his work is now revered as one of the greatest achievements both of British folk music and of the entire singer-songwriter genre worldwide.[43]

Psychedelia and Progressive RockEdit

The Move

The Move in 1967

In the late 1960s the extreme eclecticism of Birmingham's musical culture saw the emergence of several highly original bands who would each develop new and distinctive pop sonorities, between them establishing many of the archetypes of the psychedlia and progressive rock that would follow. The first of these was The Move, formed in December 1965 by musicians from several existing Birmingham bands including Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders, Carl Wayne and The Vikings and the Mayfair Set; initially performing covers of American West Coast acts such as The Byrds alongside Motown and early rock 'n' roll classics.[49] Guitarist Roy Wood was soon persuaded to start writing original material, and his eccentric, melodically inventive songwriting and dark, ironic sense of humour[50] saw their first five singles all reach the UK Top 5.[51] With their sound "placing everything in pop to date in one ultra-eclectic sonic blender",[52] The Move performed across an enormous range of styles, including blues, 1950s rock 'n' roll and country and western[49] with a particularly strong influence from hard-edged rhythmic soul,[53] and with some of their material approaching the sound that would later be identified as heavy metal.[54] Their 1966 single "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" has been credited, alongside near-simultaneous releases by The Beatles and Pink Floyd, with establishing the childlike pastoral vision that would characterise English psychedelia, though Wood's songs were in not in fact LSD-influenced but based on a set of "fairy stories for adults" he had written while still at school,[55] and were intended as "songs about going mad, or just being a bit bonkers".[56] The Move were notorious for their highly confrontational live act, smashing up televisions and setting off fireworks on stage, and for a period featuring a life-sized effigy of Prime Minister Harold Wilson which was torn to shreds over the course of the show.[57]

Emerson Lake and Palmer three

Carl Palmer performing as part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer

In 1966 The Craig released "I Must be Mad", a furiously energetic freakbeat-influenced single that showcased the sophistication of Handsworth-born Carl Palmer's unpredictable and angular drumming.[58] This record has since come to be recognised as one of the earliest examples of British psychedelia, being voted by The Observer second only to Pink Floyd's "Arnold Layne" as the best psychedelic single of the 1960s.[59] The Craig dissolved later that year, but Palmer was to become the leading drummer of the progressive rock era worldwide as a member of groups including The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster and the supergroups Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Asia; developing a drumming style of a speed, dexterity and complexity that completely transcended the more traditional rock drumming of artists like Keith Moon, John Bonham or Charlie Watts.[60] Also performing in the style later identified as freakbeat were The Idle Race, the most important Birmingham band of the 1960s not to achieve significant commercial success, who formed from the remains of The Nightriders in 1966, after the departure of Roy Wood and Mike Sheridan led to their replacement by a 19 year old Jeff Lynne.[1] By 1967 Lynne was clearly the band's leader, shaping its sound and direction and writing its original material.[61] Their 1968 debut album The Birthday Party gained critical recommendations from musical figures as diverse as The Beatles, Marc Bolan, Kenny Everett and John Peel, but little commercial auccess, being too ambitious to gain mass popularity.[1] When their more accessible 1969 follow-up Idle Race also failed to reach the charts Lynne left to join The Move.[62]

Steve Winwood with Traffic

Steve Winwood performing with Traffic

Traffic introduced musical textures and layers previously unknown to rock through their multi-instrumental line-up and their incorporation of jazz, folk and Indian influences, becoming one of the most successful bands of the early seventies internationally, with four US Top 10 albums.[63] The band was formed at The Elbow Room in Aston in April 1967 when Steve Winwood decided to quit The Spencer Davis Group at the height of their success to pursue more adventurous musical directions, joining together with guitarist Dave Mason and drummer Jim Capaldi from The Hellions and flautist and saxophonist Chris Wood from Locomotive.[64] Their first two singles "Paper Sun" and "Hole In My Shoe" highlighted the groups instrumental virtuosity and reached the UK Top 5.[65]
Elo 27041978 04 800

The Electric Light Orchestra in 1978.

Also in the late 1960s, there were psychedelic rock bands, such as Velvett Fogg a cult British psychedelic rock band. Tony Iommi was a member in mid-1968, but soon left to form Black Sabbath. Their lone eponymous album was released in January 1969, and re-released on CD by Sanctuary Records in 2002. Also Bachdenkel, who Rolling Stone called "Britain's Greatest Unknown Group".

In the 1970s members of The Move and The Uglys formed the Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard.

Birmingham-based tape recorder company, Bradmatic Ltd helped develop and manufacture the Mellotron. Over the next 15 years, the Mellotron had a major impact on rock music and is a trademark sound of the progressive rock bands.

Early Heavy MetalEdit

Led Zeppelin - Plant and Bonham

Robert Plant and John Bonham, who joined Led Zeppelin from the Birmingham-based Band of Joy

Birmingham in the late 1960s and early 1970s was the birthplace of heavy metal music,[66][67] whose international success as a musical genre over subsequent decades has been rivalled only by hip-hop in the size of its global following,[68][69] and which bears many hallmarks of its Birmingham origins. The city's location in the centre of England meant that its music scene was influenced both by the London-based British Blues Revival and by the melodic pop songwriting of Liverpool, allowing it to apply Liverpool's harmonically-inventive approach to London's high-volume guitar-dominated style, in the process moving beyond the conventions of both. Birmingham's local jazz tradition was to influence heavy metal's characteristic use of modal composition, and the dark sense of irony characteristic of the city's culture was to influence the genre's typical b-movie horror film lyrical style and its defiantly outsider stance.[70] The industrial basis of Birmingham society in the 1960s and 1970s was also significant: early heavy metal artists described the mechanical monotony of industrial life, the bleakness of the post-war urban environment and the pulsating sound of factory machinery as influences on the sound they developed, and Black Sabbath's use of loosely-stringed down-tuned guitars and power chords partly resulted from lead guitarist Tony Iommi's loss of the ends of two fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident with a sheet metal cutting machine. The style of music also had precedents among earlier local bands: aggressive performing styles had been a characteristic of the wild and destructive stage shows of The Move, and Chicken Shack's pioneering use of high volume Marshall Stacks had pushed the boundaries of loud and aggressive blues to new extremes.

Black Sabbath

Critics disagree over which band can be thought of as the first true heavy metal band, with American commentators tending to favour Led Zeppelin and British commentators tending to favour Black Sabbath.[71] Led Zeppelin formed in 1968 and was made up of two London-based musicians from The Yardbirds and two from the Birmingham-based Band of Joy, marking an explicit combination of the musical influences of the two cities. The Yardbirds had extended the instrumental textures of the blues through extended jamming sessions, but it was the influence of the Midlands-based musicians – drummer John Bonham and vocalist Robert Plant – that would provide Led Zeppelin's harder edge and focus, and bring a more eclectic range of stylistic influences. While it remained based in blues and rock and roll conventions, the music of Led Zeppelin blended these with extreme volume and a highly experimental melodic and rhythmic approach, forging a much harder and heavier sound. This combination of intensity and finesse in Led Zeppelin's output redefined both mainstream and alternative rock music for the 1970s,[72] particularly in the United States, where they remain the fourth bestselling act in music history.[73]
Judas Priest dal viṿ a Cardiff in dal 1981

Judas Priest in 1981.

More radical in their departure from established musical conventions were Black Sabbath, whose origins lay as a band playing blues and rock and roll covers within the mainstream Birmingham music scene of the 1960s. From 1969 onwards they moved away from the traditional structures of rock and roll music entirely, using modal rather than three-chord blues forms and creating an entirely new set of musical codes based on multi-sectional design, unresolved tritones and Aeolian riffs. Their 1970 album Black Sabbath first saw the pattern of angular riffs, power chords, down-tuned guitars and crushingly high volume that would come to characterise heavy metal.Template:Sfn Paranoid, their second album, refined and focused this model, and in the process "defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other album in rock history".[74] Paranoid also marked Black Sabbath's commercial breakthrough, reaching number 1 in the UK album charts and number 8 in the US.[75] Black Sabbath's influence is universal throughout heavy metal and its many subgenres,[76] but their musical significance extends well beyond metal: their discovery that guitar-based music could be fundamentally alienating would lead directly to the sound of the Sex Pistols and the birth of punk;[77] and their influence would be felt by bands as diverse as the post-punk Joy Division, the avant-garde Sonic Youth,[78] the Seattle-based grunge bands Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains,[79] Californian stoner rock,[80] and even the rap of Ice-T,[77] Cypress Hill[81] and Eminem.[82]

Also crucial to the emergence of heavy metal as an international phenomenon were Judas Priest,[83] who moved beyond the early sound of the metal genre in the later 1970s, combining the doom-laden gothic feel of Black Sabbath with the fast, riff-based sound of Led Zeppelin, while adding their own distinctive two-guitar cutting edge.[84] Their 1978 album Stained Class established the sonic template for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that would follow, removing the last traces of blues rock from the metal sound and taking it to new levels of power, speed, malevolence and musicality.[85] By 1979 and the release of Killing Machine and the live album Unleashed in the East they had effectively redefined the whole genre,[86] and with 1982's British Steel they brought the new sound decisively into the commercial mainstream.[69] Judas Priest came to epitomise heavy metal more than any other band,[87] with the fetishistic look of motorbikes, leather, studs and spikes adopted by gay lead singer Rob Halford coming to define heavy metal's visual style.[88] They were to form the essential link between the traditional heavy metal of the 1970s and the various genres of extreme metal that would follow, their sound laying the basis for the speed metal, death metal, thrash metal and black metal of the 1980s.[69][84]

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