News Stories

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.

 

 

Wide Boys

The Wide Boys were originally self managed, and then they were managed by Pete King (Fearless Productions) for a while, and went onto do some recording for Simon Cowell (then of EMI I believe) under the name “The Last Detail”.
The band played a mixture of Reggae and Rock, and the driving force was Simon Smith, who wrote most of the songs.

Various people passed through the band during its time, and the band toured the university circuit extensively, did the usual pub gigs in Brum, a couple of gigs down in London (Electric Ballroom and Dingwalls) and appeared on a BBC TV programme, which was recorded in Manchester.
The band released a single on the Big Bear Record Label (Jim Simpson) in 1980 called “Stop That Boy” The B side was “Heart of Stone”.

The band was also included in the EMI album “Bouncing Back – A Birmingham Compilation” (1980) with several other bands including, UB40, Steel Pulse, Fashion, Steve Gibbons Band, and several other bands.
The Album track was called “Forty Million”.

The Wide Boys supported UB40 on several occasions, and both bands were based (at their beginnings) in Trafalgar Road, Moseley. In fact, as the Wide Boys started gigging before UB40, on more than one occasion UB40 were support act to the Wide Boys.
The band members were (in no particular order and probably not exhaustive):
Simon Smith (Lead Vocals, Guitar and Songwriter)
Malcolm Smart (Lead Guitar)
Johnnie Web (Keyboards and Guitar)
Joseph G Jones (support vocals)
Steve Fever (Percussion and Vocals)
Steve Ajoa (Lead Guitar and Vocals)
Tony Keach (Bass)
Brett Ross (Keyboard)
Steve and then Jim (On Drums)

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.

Henry’s Blues House

Hill Street/Station Street

Henry’s Blues House was great venue, and was situated on the corner of Hill Street and Station Street. It featured many of the up and coming local blues,and R&B bands, including Robert Plant, Crawling Kingsnakes and Band Of Joy. Led Zeppelin was one of the first bands to play there.

Band Of Joy

Jim Simpson was a well known musician and band manager and photographer for the Midland Beat newspaper.He was manager and trumpet player of the pop group Locomotive, and opened the club seeing the potential for his band in playing at the venue.

Earth then Black Sabbath

Thinking this might be a good opportunity, the members of Earth the name before Black Sabbath approached Jim to see if they could perform there too. Jim Simpson was at that time managing local bands Bakerloo Blues Line and Tea & Symphony. It was obvious that Earth needed a manager who understood their music so Jim allowed them to open for the well-known band Ten Years After at the club. The audience response to Earth’s performance was favourable so Simpson also agreed to manage them

Our aim to build a complete list of gigs at Henry’s Blues House. Here’s a start but we need your help!

Bakerloo Blues Line, Tea & Symphony 25/06/68
Tea & Symphony 27/03/71
Anno Domini 09/05/71
Paladin 11/05/71
Karakorum 06/06/71
Pete Brown & Piblokto! 08/06/71
Thin Lizzy 11/07/71
Anno Domini 18/07/71
Alan Bown 08/08/71
Gypsy 10/08/71
Open Road 10/11/71
Gypsy 12/11/71
Status Quo 24/11/71
Blonde On Blonde 16/12/71
Stackridge 19/12/71
Tea & Symphony 21/12/71
Gypsy 19/03/72
Gnidrolog 26/03/72
Budgie 09/05/72
Thin Lizzy 16/05/72
Capability Brown 30/05/72
Trapeze 20/06/72
Warm Dust 18/07/72
Thin Lizzy 29/08/72
CMU 17/09/72
Supertramp 19/09/72
Strife 01/10/72
Budgie 03/10/72
UFO 10/10/72
Chicken Shack 31/10/72
Judas Priest 27/12/72
Skin Alley 30/01/73

 

Jim Simpson hosted a talk about Henry’s at The Crown where regulars attended and talked about some of the great bands that they had seen play there and the memories of the music and wider cultural landscape of Birmingham. The talk was attended by an ex-member of Henry’s, Member 199 according to the membership card he brought with him!

 

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