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The Crown

The Crown is arguably the most important venue in Birmingham’s music history. It was here, in the upstairs room, that Henry’s Blues House was started by Jim Simpson and would play host to the early gigs of Earth, before they renamed themselves Black Sabbath.

But the The Crown was also a focal point for Brummie punks as it spread out of London. The Crown, or more specifically, the room above the bar which played host to all the amazing gigs and nights, is under threat with the brewery wanting to convert the space in to apartments. This would be a terrible fete to befall a genuine Birmingham cultural heritage space. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the possibilities of what we could do with this room, a dedicated site for Birmingham Popular Music attracting tourists to the spiritual home of the legendary Sabbath, where you can still read the graffiti of the punks, Drongos For Europe, scrawled on walls, Sheldon Punks on the stairs.

Tom Pickering lived at The Crown while his dad, Tom Picking Snr ran managed it. Tom has written in with a wonderful recollection of his time their:

Hi

My dad (also called Tom Pickering) was Landlord of the crown from the late 1950’s through to about 1970. It was a tied house at the time (M&B) but revenue from the two dance halls went to the landlord if he arranged events there.

I was born in a local hospital in 1964 and my sister actually born there in 65.

There are actually two performance spaces upstairs – a main dancehall with a side “snug” bar and a smaller room (called the Boatman’s Bar – and decorated with utterly incongruous sea related paraphernalia) with higher ceilings (and much better acoustics) both were used interchangeably in the 1960’s – though the second room seems to be the host for most of the Henry’s Blues House meetings.

The list you have online starts in 1970 – but music was a huge thing much earlier than that. I remember it was called “underground” music and started around 1967 – 68.

My gran used to do the catering for the pub and fondly remembered the bands who used to play there. I remember at the height of the newspapers monstering of Ozzy Osbourne her telling me how he was a good kid and always super polite to her on the catering station – although always hungry and trying to scrounge a sandwich.

The Crown was one of only a few venues in the city centre with a license for music and dancing so it attracted the early folk scene too. My mom has stories about the Chieftains having a residency there in 1964 / 65, and there were regular appearances from local bands like “Denny Laine and the Diplomats” and the Moody Blues.

There was a pie stall on old bombed out building near the front door which was hugely popular with local biker community. They labelled themselves “Ton Up Kid” and their big aim was to do 100 mph on their old Norton and BSA motorbikes. these kids formed the nucleus of the early heavy metal fan base.

One of the things that people forget is that there were an utterly notorious set of “cottages” outside the crown (underground public toilets now filled in on the corner of Hill st and Station St) which made it a haven for the early LGBT / Trans community. Who used to mix utterly happily with the Bikers, Rockers and Folkies. It was a very special, if somewhat unpredictable place.

The period 1970 – 75 was when most the Henry’s gigs happened – we had been moved out of the Crown by the brewers. Between 74 and 77 the old place fell into a terrible rut. There was always an undercurrent of violence about the pub, with such a disparate community there frictions and jealousies would be bound to spill over, but my father used to keep a very effective door squad in place and it never really became toxic.

When he left the violence became untenable, and the pub was let out as a tenancy in late 1976 / early 1977. My dad took up rental and returned to what had, by now, become an absolute shambles of a place. He bought back his old door squad and the violence all moved back away.

This is when Billy Dupre asked my dad for his old bar job back. Billy was a lovely gentle sort of a guy – a real 1960’s hippy and kids all loved him (me included) He asked if he could run the (now closed as a fire hazard) back lounge bar as a venue for his “punk” friends – and change the music on the jukebox to allow him to do this.

So he set up and before long the Crown was swarming with Punks. We re-opened the old upstairs dance hall and used it as a venue for a “punk disco” with Billy and his friends playing records. The ATV show Revolver filmed a bunch of the filler “crowd” footage up there.

The Punks made enormous peacock there for 2 years or so until the 1979 Thatcher Govt brought the full weight of the transition to a service economy down to bear – Birmingham was one of the worst places affected and the scene moved first to a mix of Punks / Skinheads (drawn by a shared love of Reggae) and then to a preponderance of skinheads with a few punks.

The two punk bands who got their break there were GBH (famous – still touring) and Drongo’s For Europe (not famous – still touring). GBH had a long term residency there – contact them they have some great stories of the place.

The skinheads drew in the far right and (by this stage of the recession) despirate for money my dad started renting out the lounge and upstairs as a venue for some pretty unsavoury groups. Column 88, Combat 18, British Movement, Ukranian Ex-Servicemens Association (these were some bad bad men) all regularly used the place.

The local bands going through there at the time included UB40 and The Beat – who name check the Crown on the final line of their single Tears of a Clown where Ranking Roger declares that he’s “going down town, going down the crown”. For a while Pig-Bag used the downstairs as an informal “club house” – Art School kids and Skinheads – it was a weird mix.

Curiously there was never any real friction between the mixed race SKA / Skin / Two Tone kids and the Far Right. A more cynical man than I might speculate that that they used to unite in hating the Asians. It was this background that gave rise to the unique multi-racial mix of the Zulu football supporters.

There was an attempt in 1980 – 81 to bring back Heavy Metal to the place – we hired the DJ from the Beerkeller (Bogarts) and this was quite popular for a while – but no real live music. The posters you see up on the walls in the photos are all from that period.

The graphiti (Bill Has Joy… etc) all dates from 1979 and is very much the hall mark of the punks.

By 1982 music had all but stopped at the place. It became home to the Zulu’s and all the Punks moved on. We moved out in the autumn of that year.

Hope this gives some flavour.

Tom

But the The Crown was also a focal point for Brummie punks as it spread out of London. The Crown, or more specifically, the room above the bar which played host to all the amazing gigs and nights, is under threat with the brewery wanting to convert the space in to apartments. This would be a terrible fete to befall a genuine Birmingham cultural heritage space. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the possibilities of what we could do with this room, a dedicated site for Birmingham Popular Music attracting tourists to the spiritual home of the legendary Sabbath, where you can still read the graffiti of the punks, Drongos For Europe, scrawled on walls, Sheldon Punks on the stairs.

We want to save this space, or at least enter into discussions with the developers to re-think their plans and release the asset, which is of cultural importance to the city, which they are custodians of.

Would love to crowd this page with photos, ticket stubs, memories, gigs listings, anything to do with your time at The Crown and your thoughts about what we can do to save this amazing place!

To kick things off, here is flyer for the regular punk ‘discos’ that took place at The Crown, I’d love to hear from anyone who went there or has photos, who the dj was, and who the phone number belonged to!

If you can’t read the type because of the ingrained dust and bleed of the ink it says:

PUNKS OF ALL SEXES

ARE WELCOME EVERY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT

AT THE CROWN HOTEL HILL ST BIRMINGHAM

THE DJ YOU KNOW WOULD RATHER REMAIN INCOGNITO PUBLICITY WISE

ITS FREE      ITS FREE

643 1506

KEEP IT ROCKING

And this is what the upstairs looks like today, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Champion Boy Dupree,Thin Lizzy, not to mention the punks of Brum and countless others have all been present in these rooms, even the posters remain.

 

 

Small Faces gig November 17th 1968

Guy Mowbray here, from Chesterfield. (not football commentator) 
Re: Small Faces gig, Birmingham Hippodrome(?) November 17th 1968
I’m a published author and currently writing a book about session musicians with The Small Faces. Some of these session musicians played in the brass section with the band at this gig. 

Background: 
In June 1968, the Small Faces started touring in support of their No.1 album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. They took a five-piece brass section on the road. One of their final gigs with this unique line-up was at The Birmingham Theatre. I have interviewed musicians who were there and would like more fans views.
I’m seeking interviews and recollections of fans who were there. It was a full house. Also on the bill were headliners The Who, Arthur Brown – who sang “Fire,” Joe Cocker and also The Mindbenders and maybe Yes and/or Free.
Hope You Can Help.
My email is [email protected]

Handsworth Music

Site dealing with all things to do with Handsworth Music:   handsworth-music.net

Is There Anyone Out There?

Is There Anyone Out There? Documenting Birmingham’s Alternative Music Scene 1986-1996 is a new exhibition co-curated by the Centre for Media & Cultural Research at Birmingham City University and the Birmingham Music Archive.

It’s running from 4th-28th May, Monday to Saturday 9am – 7pm and its free entrance.

Here is the exhibition blurb, it’s going to be great so whether you went to the Click Club, interested in Birmingham music and heritage or fans of Primal Scream, Sea Urchins, Killing Joke, Suicide, Mighty Mighty, James, Sugarcubes (Bjork on Broad St!!!) and many many others, come and see unseen photos, original posters, tickets, contracts (what did Primal Scream ask for in their rider in 1986?) as well as incredible live footage of the bands and what Broad St looked like in 1986.

‘Is There Anyone Out There?’
Documenting Birmingham’s Alternative Music Scene 1986-1990
4-28th May 2016
Parkside Building, Birmingham City University, Curzon Street, Birmingham, B4 7BD

Established in 1986 by Dave Travis and Steve Coxon, The Click Club was the name of a concert venue and disco associated with Birmingham’s alternative music culture. Located in ‘Burberries’ – a conventional nightclub site in the pre-regeneration city centre, the club showcased a wide variety of acts reflecting the varied culture of the independent and alternative sector.

While capacity was limited to a few hundred attendees on any one night, The Click Club was important locally, nationally and internationally, for the role it played as part of a touring circuit, and for distributors and retailers of independent music. As a central feature in a music scene operating on a DIY-basis, independent of major labels, at the intersection of subcultures it also had enormous cultural value for its participants.

Travis continues to be a key cultural entrepreneur. Known initially as a professional photographer, commissioned by music publications such as NME, Sounds and the local Brumbeat amongst others, he has combined his photographic work with the promotion of live music in the city.

This exhibition draws upon Travis’ personal archive of film, posters, magazines and ephemera that detail a vibrant and dynamic space and time in late 80s Birmingham.
Central to the exhibition is a set of previously unseen images taken by Travis at The Click Club, a small proportion of those produced during a professional life as a music promoter and photographer.

The exhibition draws upon first hand accounts of those who were there and includes loaned artefacts in order to contextualize The Click Club in a historical moment that remains important to its community and to the music and cultural heritage of Birmingham.

The exhibition poses a series of questions: what is the value of this material? What does it tell us beyond confirming the memories of the individuals it concerned? Does such material have wider importance and contributions to make to our understanding of the past?

While the exhibition will appeal to those who attended The Click Club as well as those curious about popular music more generally, it is aimed at a broader audience interested in history, urban life, everyday creativity and the cultural economy.

Conceived and curated by scholars from the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research Paul Long, Jez Collins (founder of Birmingham Music Archive), and Sarah Raine, the exhibition develops themes from BCMCR research clusters in Popular Music Studies and History, Heritage and Archives.

Previous work includes: UK Film Council funded production of: the film ‘Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra’ (www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrVa3v9U8mU); establishment of a project to develop the archival preservation of the production culture of Pebble Mill (www.pebblemill.org); research into the archive of BBC documentarist Philip Donnellan; collaborations with Vivid Projects on the history of The Birmingham Film and Television Workshop and Catapult Club Archive (see: www.vividprojects.org.uk).

If you would like to attend the exhibition Launch Event on the evening of 3rd May please RSVP to: [email protected]
You are welcome to join us over the duration of the exhibition and we would be pleased to welcome you and discuss the project.

We spoke to Steve and Dave about the club, why and how they set it up and about Birmingham at that period. Here’s taster for the Podcast which will be available soon.

For more information and exhibition materials contact us directly.
Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research: www.bcmcr.org
Birmingham Music Archive: www.birminghammusicarchive.com

A Night At The Flicks

There are a number of albums kicking around that highlight Birmingham music at different points in time and across different genres.

A Night At The Flicks is one such album. Released in 1985 on N.R.O. Records this 16 track lp covers synth driven indie, post punk, reggae, C86, psychobilly and hard rock. There are some great tracks on this album which was compiled by Jon Buxton, Terry Boazman and Paul Panic from The Accused

I need help in filling in a lot of gaps on this one. From details about the bands to the N.R.O. Records to the people in the credits.

Where you in one of the bands? A fan or remember seeing them play? Know who and what N.R.O. Records were or do you know, or are you one of, the people in the credits?

I’ve photographed the album so read the sleeve notes in the 1,2,3 order I’ve arranged them in!

A Night At The Flicks

Side 1                                                                                                           

Private I.D. – All Fall Down;  The Jury – Take It Higher; The Biz – My Life; The Cushites – In The Name Of Love; Fact Is… – Walking In The Rain; Future – Only Child; King Rat – That’s Progress; Slaughterhouse 5 – Dresden

 Side 2

Arabia – Watch And Believe; System X – I Did It*; Mighty Mighty  – Throwaway; Beneath The Street – Friends; Warren (Armstrong) and The Walkons – Anytime; Pungent Smells – Psiko; Eye Do It – The Brick Wall (Knock It Down); Touché – Touché

Produced by Jon Buxton

Engineered by Steve Law

N.R.O. Records. 1985

 

Van Morrison’s Return to Symphony Hall Inevitable

At 68 years old, you can’t really blame Van Morrison for slowing down his work schedule a touch. He hasn’t released a new album since 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B and it’s not as if he’s touring the globe like he once did. However, the Northern Ireland native is gearing up to celebrate the latest year of his career, and we at BMA are hoping that includes another stop at the historic Symphony Hall.

Fans of Morrison in the area know full well that he’s put on some spectacular shows at the renowned venue in the past. That includes the previous decade or so, during which he has performed at the Symphony Hall several times. Most notably, there was his gig in September 2003, when Morrison performed an incredible set of songs that include a five-song (!) medley, a riveting take on tried-and-true classic “Brown Eyed Girl,” and so much more.

Later shows—in 2005 and 2006—showed that Morrison, though aging, hadn’t lost a single step. That was particularly true in terms of his setlist, which he never let slack or become repetitive. Sure, the classics were all there along with his killer cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me,” but he kept it fresh and engaging enough that repeat attendees wouldn’t see the same show year in and year out.

This year, Morrison’s tour schedule may be slim, but the hope is that he’ll expand his jaunt with an announcement in the coming weeks or months. It only seems inevitable given his strong fanbase in Birmingham and past shows at the Symphony Hall. Also, he’s releasing a remastered double-LP of his infamous The Complete Bang Sessions project through the PledgeMusic platform, so he’s got something new to promote. Fans are able to grab a limited-edition red-and-black splattered vinyl version of the album; digital options are available, too. Perhaps he’ll want to get the word out there more with a few added performances, right?

Morrison’s upcoming tour dates are as follows. Also, while he’s not coming to Birmingham (yet!), the dates in Cambridge, London, and East Molesey are only about a 90-minute to two-hour drive for all the Morrison diehards out there willing to take a brief trip.

      • May 25 Blues on The Bay Festival 2014: Warrenpoint, UK
      • Jun 16 Hampton Court Palace: East Molesey, UK
      • Jul 15 Montreux Jazz Festival: Montreux, Switzerland
      • Jul 17 Schloßplatz Stuttgart: Stuttgart, Germany
      • Jul 22 Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2014: Edinburgh, UK
      • Jul 27 Slieve Donard Hotel Newcastle Co.: Down, UK
      • Jul 28 Slieve Donard Hotel Newcastle Co.: Down, UK
      • Aug 03 Cambridge Folk Festival: Cambridge, UK
      • Oct 28 Royal Albert Hall: London, UK

Watch Van Morrison perform his “Help Me” cover below.

The Day the Music Died – Birmingham Odeon

Brilliant ITV news piece about the closure of the Odeon, one of the best venues in the country.

Revival of Vinyl

Karen Lloyd and Charli Blighton have created this wonderful piece about the current remaining independent record shops in Birmingham talking to the owners about why and how they keep their shops open in the face of the recession and more people buying either online or opting for MP3’s instead of physical artefacts. The owners also fondly reminisce and recall their record buying days in Birmingham when there were plentiful shops to purchase your vinyl treasures.

Crass at the Digbeth Civic Hall 16/12/1983

The brilliant Kill Your Pet Puppy site run by Tony Drayton is an online site that documents the punk fanzine Tony ran from 1976-1979 called Ripped & Torn. Tony has kindly given me permission to add these amzing photos of Crass playing at the Digbeth Civic Hall in December 1983. Crass are one of the great Anarcho Punk bands and the photos show them at their best.

 

There was also a recording made of the gig, taken from the mixing desk which captures Crass perfectly which you can here in three parts. Penny, Gee, Steve Ignorant, all sound as vital today as they did they. As always I’d love to hear from anyone who was there or has photos etc.

Crass part 1 Crass part 2 crassdigbeth19830002

 

021

Formed in 1979, 021’s original line up included the 16 year old Tony Simpson and fifteen year olds Simon Palmer, Ian Kemp, Mark Thomas and the even younger 14 year old Punk Ian Richards. Hailing from Shirley and Olton the band played first gigs at the nearby Langley School, with an eclectic set that matched their diverse musical interests. Any concert where you can hear Stephan Wolfs Born To Be Wild followed by the Clash’s, White Riot, with an encore of Iggy Pop’s Wanna Be Your Dog showed the mood of the time and the cross from prog rock to Punk Rock that was taking place across Birmingham.

Spurred on by the rivalry with local Band the Undertakers, the line up and look changed just after their first vinyl offering “I Don’t Wanna Be A Robot”, on the Mell Square Music EP, in 1980. The track is perhaps the worst produced track of all time, but provides a real nod to DIY punk and genuine belief in the art of the garage band. It was featured along with The Accused and Cracked actors on a John Peel BBC 1 special at the end of 1979.

The band went through a major shift in focus and line up during 1980, under the influence of Simpson and Martin Frain (The Chomsky Allstars) their lyricist and manager, there was a desire to pen and deliver ala Clash / Jam / Stiff Little Fingers, three minute pieces of power and pace. During this period the band gigged regularly in Birmingham and Solihull, with a residency at the Golden Lion Solihull, and supporting concerts at the Golden Eagle, Barrel Organ, and Kit Kat club amongst others.

Their fan base began to spread, culminating in a graffiti campaign that came to regional prominence via the Birmingham media Evening Mail, with 021 being sprayed on walls and bus’s at the time.

In 1981 the band recorded three studio sessions after which the acetate of What Ever Happened To You was released, they additionally recorded a session, borrowing the Undertakers base player Michael Hogan and recording the definitive version of Haven and Hell.

By Mid 1981, the band had finally reached its zenith with a line up of Simpson / Frain, (Viv) Elmore, and (Mike) Hancox, and (John) Croak joining from a local Birmingham based Ska Band. The band had found its own sound and was now firmly established across the Midlands Alternative music landscape, they played on the same bill as The Beat, Blurt, the Au Pairs, UB40, the Denizens as well as taking part in the famous Lark in the Park music festival at Cannon Hill Park. The band additionally spread its wings playing in London, Manchester, and Liverpool and on the South Coast.

In 1982 they released the power pop single, The Pop Song on UK pop Records supporting this with a tour across the UK that culminated with a Mary Wilson / 021 / Mod All-dayer in Essex. Thier fan base at this time also turned towards the power pop mods that had stated to surface in Birmingham, with the Mood Elevators, 021 forged a new Birmingham sound and a small but passionate following, culminating in a residency at the Barrel Organ that was ultimately terminated due to crowd disturbances.

The Pop Song meanwhile became a crowd favourite and the small press run was to sell out instantly, the band were now writing thier best work and regularly gigging in London with memorable performance at La Beat Route Club and The Cavern in Liverpool.

By 1982 Elmore was the creative engine of the band, writing ever more bitter and challenging songs, for a period the band were due to sign as stable mates with Duran Duran, and were one of the first psychedelic based bands of their era.

As The Pop Song gained Radio 1 Airplay, the band like so many, failed to deliver a follow up and slid into apathy, and disarray, leaving a memory of what might have been, 021 really were the band that never was.

021 mainstay Tony Simpson has sent some great pictures of the famed punk/power pop band.  Thanks to Tony for the material.  Here is a pic of 021 about to take the stage , posing on the (legendry) stairs of the Golden Eagle, all bands had to lugg gear up theses steep stairs, where the venue room was, not so bad….it was at the end of the night bringing it all down that was the real killer…anyway, great venue.

The others pics are from the other legendary venue, The Cedar Club.

Came across this great track and video on You Tube, posted by TheNeoDog of the song Birmingham Mods

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