Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Birmingham’s need for a ‘modern mythology’

Birmingham’s need for a ‘modern mythology’

One of Birmingham’s City Council Scrutiny Committees is in the process of doing a scrutiny review on what it means to be a “Brummie”. Paul Dale on the Chamberlain files has done an excellent write up on yesterday’s first hearing at

I don’t intend to get dragged into a debate on what it means to be a “Brummie”, since this question is really worthy of a PhD thesis in itself. What I do want to discuss on this blog entry is Birmingham's lack of a ‘modern mythology’ and its complete inability to celebrate its own famous residents – in this case Ozzy Osborne.

First of all the issue of ‘modern mythology’. I’ll illustrate this point by using the examples of Liverpool and Manchester. Ask any Liverpudian about the history of their city and they will talk about the importance of the docks, the Beatles and other groups like Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Ask someone from Manchester about the history of their city and they will mention the textile industry, New Order, The Smiths, Factory Records and so on. Ask a Birmingham resident and they will simply mention metal bashing and cars manufacturing.

It’s as if in Birmingham, the whole cultural history since 1945 has been collectively erased from its resident’s minds.

When I was Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and culture (2009 to 2012), one of my pet projects was to try and dust down Birmingham’s recent culture history and create a ‘modern mythology’ for Birmingham. And what a modern mythology Birmingham could have. Here are some examples:

Sir Edward Elgar, one of Britain’s most famous classical music composers – composer of Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches – performed most of his work here in Birmingham. I am informed that Elgar claimed if there was one place on Earth he would always be remembered, it would be Birmingham! Yet there is no mention of him anywhere in Birmingham. Indeed, I did urge Argent, developers for the new Paradise Forum if they could name their two new squares: Elgar Square and Bantock Square.

The Birmingham Surrealist Movement – an important British post-War movement, yet few Birmingham residents have ever heard of it. See

Heavy Metal music – Birmingham and the Black Country is the birthplace of Heavy Metal music. A genre of music that is popular across the world. Indeed, the most famous Birmingham born person in the entire world is Ozzy Osborne. A part from an easily missed ‘pavement star’ on Broad Street pavement there is nothing celebrate Ozzy’s connection to Aston and Birmingham. I will explain how I tried to change that in a bit

British Reggae – Birmingham was important in bringing Jamaican Reggae to the shores of Britain. Aswad, Steel Pulse, UB40 and Musical Youth all played there parts in bringing this genre of music to the British and American mainstream.

Female Black Gospel singers – again Birmingham through its vibrant black gospel singing community has contributed enormously to wider British and World music scene through the likes of Jamilia, Ruby Turner, Jaki Graham, Joan Armatrading, etc

New Romatic Movement – Birmingham was important in the early 1980s New Romantic Movement....and who are recognised across the globe to be the greatest New Romantic band? Duran Duran! Duran Duran are on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for goodness sake, but there is zip all in Birmingham to remember them

Bhangra music – Birmingham is recognised to be the creator and home of Bhangra music. A multi-million pound industry that has gone global, especially in India. Yes, Birmingham is selling Indian music to India!!!!!

So as you can clearly see, I am passionate about rediscovering and celebrating Birmingham modern culture. Yes, I know there are the Broad Street stars – but let’s be honest, these are a bit of a flop. Can anyone honestly name me 5 people on this list of stars? Indeed, has anyone ever actually specifically been to Broad Street to look at the stars? They are not really a tourist attraction.

When I was Cabinet member, I wanted to start to get many of these cultural Birmingham ‘stars’ recognised by the Council – giving them a Freedom of the City or another Award – and have events to link to the presenting of this Award.

The first one proposed was Ozzy Osbourne – the intention was to have a Ozzy Osborne themed Saturday or weekend in Birmingham City Centre. The various Business Improvement Districts could dress up the city centre with banners celebrating Ozzy, after all the hotels would do a great trade from this event. Ozzy Osbourne would receive his medal or whatever on the balcony of the Council House. His management were happy to support this. Victoria Square would have been packed for this and just think of all those visitors shopping in Birmingham. We would have a ‘heavy metal or rock’ concert in Centenary Square, sponsored by a local rock radio station, with Birmingham’s new up and coming heavy metal and rock bands performing. The concert would show that this event is not just about celebrating the past, but promoting new future talent.

This simple layout could be replicated for other presentations: a Duran Duran weekend; a UB40 weekend; a John Joubert weekend (John Joubert is a globally famous composer still living in Moseley – see ); a Brian Griffin weekend (Brian Griffin is a globally famous photographer born in Ladywood – see

The scope to celebrate our upteen famous modern citizens is enormous....and it would put Birmingham on the cultural map.

So with this fantastic idea in hand, in March 2012, I made soundings both to the Lord Mayors Parlour in the Council House and to numerous political colleagues. The response was disappointing, since the feedback was that it felt that only people who had contributed to Birmingham and had lived an exemplary life were recognised and Ozzy Osborne (and other artists) simply did not fit that criteria.

With me losing my Council seat in May 2012, this proposal vanished with me.

Birmingham needs a modern mythology that its residents can be proud of and something that will give the city a new identity to outsiders other than its current image drab concrete buildings and pedestrian subways. Will someone else take the banton and create a modern mythology for Birmingham?


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