Birmingham and the Birth of Heavy Metal
Birmingham has long been characterised by its strong musical drive. In the sixties, it already had 600 pop and rock bands. Musically speaking, the Birmingham scene stood out for its fusion. Indeed, almost all the musicians in those groups also played in parallel bands. Even soloists eschewed being pigeon-holed and poured out a blend of styles in their live shows. The fact is that musical amalgamations have been part of the city’s DNA since the 18th century, when street musicians sounded out practically all the styles to be had. Diversity and the culture of experimentation have led Birmingham to engender several musical styles. In the sixties, it was the Spencer Davis Group super band that provided the finishing touches to British rhythm and blues through a combination of folk, jazz, blues and soul. Although Pink Floyd were the initiators, English psychodelics was consolidated in Birmingham by The Move. But, there is one style that became a mass, global phenomenon – heavy metal – which germinated in the early seventies and was captained by Black Sabbath.
Heavy metal has always been regarded as the epitome of hard rock. Not for nothing did it emerge as a far more extreme form of rock than anything that went before it. But, why in Birmingham and not in London? For the simple reason that it emerged in the centre of the country where trade, information and trends were continually converging. In effect, this enclave lay halfway between the country’s two major musical poles. One was London, with its white, hard-blues bands, many of whom had conquered America in the previous years. The other, Liverpool, a veritable nursery of melodic pop. Aside from being a nexus between the two, Birmingham contributed its grain of sand by incorporating jazz as a condiment. But, that was not all – darkness, and the repetitive, mechanical component associated with a city smothered in factories since the Industrial Revolution, proved to be more than latent. All these components came together in the early records of Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath” (1970) and “Paranoid” (1972). While the former still rested on the solid springboard of unmitigated blues, the latter heralded the birth of a new style, with a far more polished sound, suited to a wider audience. The disc topped the charts in the UK, and reached number 8 in the USA. That recording hit a milestone beyond the reach of most, and its influence was decisive in the birth of punk (Sex Pistols), post-punk (Joy Division), stoner rock (Kyuss), grunge (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains), and even rap (Ice-T, Cypress Hill).
The Father of the Child
Controversy is rife when it comes to asserting the paternity of the genre. There are two schools of thought – those who believe Led Zeppelin to be the pioneering band, and those who hold it to be the combo led by Ozzy Osbourne. At any rate, gestation clearly occurred in Birmingham and a large number of members of both groups hail from this city. All the members of Black Sabbath were nurtured on the local scene. Half of Led Zeppelin, too, as John Bohnam (drums) and Robert Plant (vocals) are local boys, having previously played in Band of Joy.
Conquering the World
Heavy metal managed to spread across the planet thanks to another Birmingham band – Judas Priest. Led by Rob Halford, they ratcheted the style up another notch, particularly with the release of “Stained Class” (1978), a disc that spearheaded what was known as the “new wave of British heavy metal”, which involved ditching the blues rock influence for good and focusing on other aspects of sound, such as power and speed. Their legacy sprouted ramifications in the form of speed metal, trash metal, death metal and black metal, and essential bands like Godflesh and Napalm Death. Their influence, however, was not only musical but also aesthetic, as it was they who ushered in prototypal heavy metal attire, based on leather, studs and the biker look.
A Heavy DNA Beyond Heavy
Many artificers of heavy metal music have sprung from the Birmingham scene, notably Blaze Bayley, Iron Maiden’s vocalist from 1994 to 1999. There are also those whose music, while not attributable to this genre, certainly influenced it in some way. Some of the most illustrious examples are Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer; Jeff Lynne, composer and singer with Electric Light Orchestra; Phil Lynott, the leader of Thin Lizzy – who was christened at St Edwards Church in Selly Park, very near Birmingham – and Marin Barre, the guitarist for Jethro Tull.
Birmingham’s musical spirit remains intact. Two scenes can currently be identified, both in rock and electronic. The city also boasts some of the most exciting festivals in the West Midlands, such as the Moseley Folk Festival, held in September.
Heavy metal never dies! Why wait any longer to discover the birthplace of this genre? Check out our flights here.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Images by Cindy Frey, Rowan Petermore info
8 Keys To Discovering Birmingham
1. Victoria Square – the Heart of the City
The city’s main historic buildings are located in this square, notably Council House with its clock tower – known as Big Brum –the Birmingham Town Hall and Birmingham Cathedral. Cultural events are held in the square, including the Frankfurt Christmas Market, laid out in the purest German Christmas-market style.
2. In Search of the Industrial Past
Birmingham was the main driving force behind the United Kingdom’s industrial revolution, which earned it acclaim as “the factory of the world”, or the “city of a thousand businesses”. Dating from that period is the city’s extensive network of canals. An enjoyable way of discovering them is to go for a ride on one of the colourful barges that ply the canals and take in the industrial heritage that has survived the test of time. It has also become a major leisure area, with pubs and restaurants to relax in before pressing on with your city tour.
One way of finding out how workers lived in the 19th century is to visit Back to Backs, a court of back-to-back houses which has been restored. Tours are organised to the precinct with its workshops, enabling you to get a better idea of that period.
3. Art and Museums – the pre-Raphaelites and Much More
The Birmingham Museum & Gallery Art (BMAG) boasts the world’s largest collection of pre-Raphaelites, with over 2,000 works on display. It also houses sections on archaeology, social history and the art of other periods. Enthusiasts of the contemporary avant-garde and the latest art trends should head to the Ikon Gallery, housed in an 1877 neo-Gothic building designed by John Henry Chamberlain.
4. More Than Just Books in The Library of Birmingham
Well worth visiting, if only for the stunning building housing this library on Centenary Square. This, the largest library in the United Kingdom, is also famed for having over 40,000 objects related to the life and work of William Shakespeare. You can also visit the Parker Collection of children’s books, that of the British politician, Benjamin Stone, with some magnificent photographs, one of the country’s largest collections of music for silent films, and a host of other exhibits.
5. Cadbury – More Than a Chocolate Factory
South of Birmingham lies Bournville, one of the city’s most beautiful districts. Among its chief landmarks, there is one coveted by all children – the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Inside you will discover the history of one of the most important chocolate factories in the world. A must if you’re travelling with children.
6. The Jewellery Quarter – Jewels for Everyone!
Most of Birmingham’s jewellery production is centred in the Jewellery Quarter, where over 100 jewellers and experts in the sector are to be found. The district dates back to the 18th century and is the site of the only Georgian square in the city. Highly recommended is a tour of the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, an erstwhile factory and workshop converted into a museum where you can see how jewels are made, among other things.
7. Bullring Shopping Centre – the Temple of Shopping
Apart from being one of Birmingham’s architectural gems, it is an essential destination for shopping lovers. It houses no fewer than 160 stores where you can indulge in one of the United Kingdom’s favourite pastimes – shopping. Before you leave, make sure you take a selfie alongside the popular bull statue in the interior.
8. Sarehole Mill – A Place Which Inspired J.R.R. Tolkien
Some five kilometres from the city centre lies Sarehole Mill, one of the last two surviving water mills in the Birmingham area.J.R.R. Tolkienfans have good reason to make a pilgrimage to this spot, as just a few yards from the mill stands Tolkien’s old house. Both the water mill and its surrounding area was a source of inspiration for some of the scenes in Lord of the Rings.
Now you have the keys to discovering Birmingham; all that’s left is to pick up your Vueling here and see it all for yourself.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Images by Tony Hisgett, David Merrett, ozz13x, Fotorus, Tim Parkinson, Elliott Brownmore info
A German Christmas in Birmingham
A trip to Birmingham in the period from mid-November to the run-up to Christmas has a surprising added enticement, particularly for lovers of Christmas markets. That is when the Frankfurt Christmas Market and Craft Fair is held, a market in the purest German style in Britain’s second largest city. What’s more, it is the largest market of this type both in the United Kingdom and outside German itself. Not to be scoffed at!
For a few weeks, a number of quaint wooden stalls transform the city centre into a picturesque village revolving around the theme of Christmas. This magnificent market is sited in Birmingham’s emblematic Victoria Square – the heart of the city, with its Town Hall and Council House – as well as in Chamberlain Square and Centenary Square. As befits the occasion, Christmas lights and decoration are very much in evidence there.
So, what can visitors expect to find in the market? First, all kinds of Christmas decoration and gift objects, most of them hand made, such as wooden toys, candles and dolls. A large portion of the market is dedicated to craftwork sourced both locally and abroad.
Additionally, in line with German Christmas markets, fair-goers can spice up their visit by trying some of the German and Austrian culinary delicacies on offer: German sausage, pretzels, schnitzel, German beer, like weissbier (wheat beer), the popular mulled wine known as glühwein and hot chocolate. The market also offers attractions, ideal when accompanied by children, and the atmosphere is gingered up by live music.
More Christmas Shopping
In you haven’t had enough with just the market and require a stiffer spot of Christmas shopping, Birmingham is the perfect place to splash out. Here are some relevant recommendations:
Bullring. the city’s shopping area par excellence. It runs from New Street to St Martin’s Church and features no fewer than 160 shops, as well as two department stores. You are unlikely to remain impassive at the sight of the stunningSelfridgesbuilding, designed by the Future Systems architects studio and a veritable icon of the city.
Jewellery Quarter. As its name indicates, this is where jewellery business are concentrated. Here, 40% of the United Kingdom’s jewellery is produced. Located in downtown Birmingham, it boasts a tradition going back several centuries. The quarter houses some 100 retail outlets where you can purchase both new pieces and vintage jewels by weight.
Great Western Arcade. A shopping arcade located between Colmore Row and Temple Row, in the heart of the city. One of its major attractions are the premises themselves, as the stores are housed in an elegant Victorian building.
Custard Factory. Enthusiasts of things original and striking will find themselves at home on these premises, the former Bird’s Custard factory, situated in the industrial district of Digbeth. The interior is taken up artists’ and creatives’ studios, side by side with shops and bars where you can take a breather. There is a grand total of 30 stores displaying the latest trends in fashion, vintage garments, contemporary jewellery, artworks, bicycles, skateboards and many other things.
Mailbox. If exclusive design and luxury brands are for you, look no further than this shopping area located in Commercial Street. This complex includes the BBC Birmingham studios, the Harvey Nichols luxury department store, and two hotels. The back of the building, which gives onto a canal, is full of terraces with bars and restaurants for you to relax in after all your hectic shopping.
Ready for a Christmas shopping spree in Birmingham? Check out your flights here.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Photos by Horst Gutmann, Custard Factory, Basti V, Tony Hisgett, Guy Evans
The Coolest Side of Birmingham
After a long day wandering around Birmingham, visiting its museums, discovering its industrial past and browsing in its shops, it is time to take a breather and enjoy the other side of the city – the more playful side, given over to flavours and experiences and to meeting its people. Not to be outdone by other destinations, Birmingham has many watering holes that break with the conventional, whether in their decoration, menu or location. Here is a selection of some of those which are well worth stopping at to replenish.
The Rose Villa Tavern
(172 Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter)
Located in the Jewellery Quarter, a must-see district, as it concentrates the largest number of jewellery stores in Europe. This pub is the perfect marriage between tradition and modernity. The interior is decorated with stained-glass windows, strikingly coloured floor tiles and the classical collection of wooden fixtures and vintage furniture charmingly highlighted in coloured tinges. The menu features traditional American food, accompanied by homemade beer and magnificent cocktails.
The Jekyll and Hyde
(28 Steelhouse Lane)
Endowed with two distinct personalities and, to do its name proud, this bar contains two well differentiated areas. The interior, distributed on two floors, is a classic Victorian-era pub. Hidden at the back of the first floor is a small outside patio with decoration that cannot fail to catch your attention, as it is inspired by Alice in Wonderland. But, there is more. In the afternoon you can have tea and a selection of homemade sandwiches and cakes. If, however, you are inclined towards stronger stuff, you can go for the cocktails served in unusual vessels. On Fridays they open the upstairs Gin Parlour, which features a large variety of gin brands and gin cocktails.
(21 High St, Harborne)
The Plough is an inviting, modern bar. The interior is decorated with a profusion of details, many of vintage inspiration, such as the lamps, tables and floor tiles. The other forte is their patio which, weather permitting, you should not fail to visit. This is the perfect spot for having a brunch based on gourmet hamburgers, homemade pizzas or just some beer, while soaking up the patio ambience.
(48 John Bright Street)
This 19th-century theatre bar is located in the city centre and is the ideal spot for winding up a long day’s outing by having a pizza and a good homemade beer. As a curiosity, film- and music-lovers can put their knowledge to the test at the “Sound and Vision” contest held every Tuesday afternoon. By the way – keep your eyes skinned because they say there’s a ghost lurking in the walls of the bar!
(12 Bennett’s Hill)
A bar inside a restaurant? Well, yes, Sugarloaf is a Mexican-themed bar tucked away on the lower floor under the Mexican cantina, Bodega, which also features Mexico as the theme on its menu. It opens Wednesday to Saturday and, in addition to the classic, essential skulls ornamenting the locale, you will find tequila and mescal cocktails and DJ sessions.
PureCraft Bar & Kitchen
(30 Waterloo St)
This establishment, which specialises in homemade beer – of which you will find an extensive domestic and international list – is simply decorated, with a certain industrial air about it. Don’t hesitate to augment your pint by ordering one of their dishes, based on British cuisine and using local produce, with a refined touch and impeccable presentation.
Fancy exploring the coolest, tastiest side of Birmingham? Get your tickets here.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Images by The Rose Villa Tavern, The Jekyll and Hyde, The Plough, Bodega Cantina, Pure Craft Bar & Kitchen