The Music of the Midlands

The city of Birmingham has several major Orchestras and the biggest is the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra whose home is at the Symphony Hall. The Symphony Hall can seat an audience of 2260 and it was opened in 1991.

The City of Birmingham Orchestra

As well as being home to the orchestra, the venue regularly hosts pop, rock and jazz concerts. The resident Orchestra was founded in 1920 and each year gives 120 performances to audiences totaling over 200,000 people. Other professional orchestras in the city include the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and Ex Cathedra.

However, the music of the midlands is best renowned for the contribution that the region has made to popular rock and pop music. It is general assumed that in the late 1960s the music scene in Liverpool was dominating British pop music. While Liverpool was important, Birmingham was just as influential because a number of successful groups emerged from the city.

While Liverpool was producing the Beatles, Birmingham’s groups included The Move, The Spencer Davis Group, The Moody Blues and the Electric Light Orchestra. As the 1970s emerged, heavy metal appeared with two of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and John Bonham, coming from the region. Judas Priest were also successful and they were formed in West Bromwich.

There was no heavy rock band as big as Black Sabbath, and they were formed in Birmingham in 1968. The lived the rock stars life to the limit and their biggest name, Ozzy Osbourne, was sacked from the band in 1979 as a result of his alcohol and drug fuelled lifestyle.

Another successful heavy metal band was Motorhead, with the lead singer and founder Lemmy being born in Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent. It was around this period that Guns ‘n’ Roses appeared and their lead guitarist Slash, spent his early childhood years growing up in Stoke. Despite these two being big names in music, the Potteries were yet to unveil their biggest star.

Robbie Williams in his favorite Port Vale (Stoke) shirt

Robbie Williams was born in Stoke-on-Trent and first appeared in Take That between 1990 and 1995. He then left the group to pursue a solo career and 10 out of his 11 studio albums have reached no 1 in the charts. He is the best-selling British solo artists in the United Kingdom and has so far sold over 75 million records.

During the 1970s, Glam rock acts started to appear, and one of the most successful groups were Slade who all Hailed from Wolverhampton. Many of their early records were about life in the Black Country but their careers changed forever when in 1973 they released “Merry Christmas Everybody”. Selling over 1 million copies the record has been played extensively over every Christmas period since.

The end of the 1970s saw the creation of many new genres of music and in Birmingham the music population was poised to take advantage of the growing craze in reggae and ska. UB40 reflected the multi-cultural ethnicity of the city with their being Irish, Jamaican, English, Scottish and Yemeni influence.

The band consisted of school friends across the city and they went on to release over 50 singles that got into the UK music charts. They have sold over 70 million records around the world and they managed to keep the line-up of the band the same for 29 years.

The West Midlands in the late 1970s was a hot bed for reggae and ska, with Musical Youth and The Beat also emerging from Birmingham. Coventry was also creating bands and in 1978 the Specials formed and they were soon followed by the Selector. The Specials released “Too Much Too Young” and “Ghost Town” that became anthems of the era, but a split between band members resulted in lead singer Terry Hall breaking away from the group to form Fun Boy Three.

Still groups were being created in Birmingham as the genres changed, and the 1980s saw Duran Duran, Dexys Midnight Runners and the Fine Young Cannibals go from being local music acts to national best-selling stars. The Midlands has made a great contribution to British Music over the years.