Eight years ago I went back to my old stomping grounds of Birmingham to look at an exhibition of Heavy Metal memorabilia and visit one of the second cities more interesting drinking establishments, the Barton Arms in Aston, which I hadn’t been to for over thirty years.
The exhibition `Home of Metal` celebrated the regions bands which had given the world heavy metal and the diligent organisers had also amassed a huge resource of relics, artefacts, memorabilia and never to be forgotten stories from such luminaries of the genre as Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi amongst many other musicians and bands.
But this exhibition was not just about the bands it was also about the fans who went out to watch the bands, bought the singles and albums and queued up around the block to get tickets to watch the bands perform time after time.
It has now been fifty years since `Paranoid` first penetrated the ears of this school leaver and I still wonder where all those years have gone? I had just left school with one CSE and no ambition and although me and my mates were musically aware of Sabbath it was Deep Purple who we spent our hard earned cash on for concert tickets and albums.
Birmingham and the Black Country is the birthplace of Heavy Metal music and has always been tied in with the industrial heritage of the region – the sound of heavy metal being thumped has been reverberating in factories and industrial estates throughout the region for many years. The history of Heavy Metal is not just a story of the development of a global music phenomenon but a social history of working class people and the hard back breaking industries in which they toiled from day to day.
I spoke to a guy on the door of the exhibition who said to me that many visitors had told him it was the first cultural exhibition they had ever been to. Visitors to the exhibition came from across the globe such was the interest from heavy metal fans and musicians from bands themselves. During the exhibition heavy metal music blasted through the museums usually quiet galleries.
I am from Walsall on the edge of the Black Country famous for its leatherwork so I was proud to see that `Home of Metal` was proudly celebrating the heritage of the region by helping to spread the story of Birmingham and the Black Country to a much wider audience. The leather-and-studs of Heavy Metal bands and their fans reflected the history of leather tanneries in areas such as Walsall as well as the metal industries.
It was a story which may not have materialised but for an industrial accident many years ago in a sheet metal factory in Birmingham. The story of left handed Tony Iommi losing the tips of his right middle and ring finger on his last day of work before going off to gig in Germany with his teenage band the Rockin` Chevrolets is now part of rock history.
Iommi was understandably depressed thinking his playing days were over before they had even begun but a friend got him to listen to guitarist Django Reinhardt who had lost the use of two fingers in a gypsy caravan campfire accident but still manged to play successfully. Inspired Iommi went back to his six string guitar and fitted soft plastic tips to the ends of his fingers.
Iommi joined up with drummer Bill Ward in a band called Earth and after a very brief spell with Jethro Tull formed Black Sabbath alongside guitarist Geezer Butler and one John `Ozzy` Osbourne and Heavy Metal was born – and the rest is history!
Heavy Metal and Black Sabbath is just one part of the extensive rock legacy in Birmingham and the Black Country.
Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Godflesh were formed in Birmingham and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant was born in West Bromwich. I remember seeing the great man in the downstairs bar of the old Town Hall at a Roy Harper concert mixing with the punters. How often would you see that at concerts today? Diamond Head came from Stourbridge and Bev Bevan of Brummie bands The Move and ELO was born in Sparkhill and went on to become a tour drummer for Black Sabbath.
Guitarist and vocalist Glenn Hughes who I recently went to see at The Robin in Bilston who was with Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Black Country Communion is also from Cannock. Black Country Communion’s drummer Jason Bonham is from Dudley and his father the legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was from Redditch. Jethro Tull’s Dave Pegg is from Birmingham and heavy metal band Wolfsbane came from Tamworth and lead singer Blaze Bayley who is from Birmingham was with Iron Maiden before going solo.
During their seventies fame glam rock chart band Slade used to hang out in The Dirty Duck on the Bridge in Walsall whose lead singer Noddy Holder was born and raised in the town. I recall them playing a number of local community centres and youth clubs as Ambrose Slade when they were an intimidating skinhead band for a weekend hippie like me. Drummer Don Powell and bass guitarist Jim Lea formed the band in Wolverhampton and guitarist Dave Hill joined the band when he later moved to the town.
The area also boasted many other of rocks elite bands and musicians including The Moody Blues who hail from Erdington and Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie grew up in the city’s Bearwood area.
One of my favourite bands ELO also have Brummie roots. Producer, songwriter and all round good guy Jeff Lynne was born in Shard End and lived in Walsh Hall at Meriden before selling his house to UB40’s Robin Campbell another global successful band from Birmingham. Fellow ELO band member Roy Wood was born in the Kitts Green area of the city and also performed with The Move alongside Lynne and glam rockers Wizzard.
I really enjoyed walking around the exhibition. Further details can be gathered at the `Home of Metal` website and extensive archive of fascinating material. A fascinating exhibition proving that Birmingham and the Black Country is home to Rock and Heavy Metal.