Birmingham & Black Country

Heavy Metal's Birmingham origins celebrated

Tony Iommi's guitar
Image caption Items on display include guitars belonging to heavy metal stars

While musical trends come, go and re-appear with all the speed of a Tony Iommi solo, one genre has remained at the forefront of popular culture for over 40 years. Now an exhibition celebrates heavy metal in the city that invented it.

Home of Metal looks back at Birmingham and the Black Country's role as the birthplace of the biggest names in rock.

The area gave rise to legendary bands which went on to have worldwide success including Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Napalm Death.

The exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has won the backing of many of the stars, with several lending items such as guitars and stage outfits.

KK Downing, guitarist and one of the founding members of Judas Priest, said he was "fortunate" to have grown up in West Bromwich in the 1950s and 1960s.

He said: "I'm very fortunate in life to have been born at the right time to witness and play a part in the evolution of music.

"I was that fan in the sleeping bag, travelling around festivals listening to rock and blues.

"So many songs were remakes of the original blues artists' classics."

He said as well as the music he grew up listening to, the Black Country itself also influenced the scene.

"We were the kids of blue collar workers. We didn't have cars or money so we just walked around from pub to club and on the corner of every street there was a venue with bands playing."

He said he was pleased to see heavy metal recognised with a museum exhibition.

"I think it's absolutely fantastic. It's a great tribute to all the local lads who did good."

The exhibition has been put together by Capsule, which organises a number of music and arts events around the West Midlands.

Image caption Lisa Meyer said heavy metal was part of the Black Country's social history

Lisa Meyer, from Capsule, said they decided to organise an exhibition of heavy metal to show people another side of the social history of the Black Country and Birmingham.

She said: "It's the first time we've done anything on this scale. We felt this was a bit of social history."

She said they felt the exhibition belonged in a museum because it celebrated "civic pride" and could be enjoyed by a wide range of people.

"It's quite far reaching, from people who listened to the music when it was first around who are now in their 60s, right through to a younger generation who are fans of the music now," she said.


The exhibition opens with the sounds of the factories which many of the bands grew up in earshot of and which may have given rise to the loud sound of heavy metal.

Visitors walk into a replica 1960s living room to watch an exclusive interview with Ozzy Osbourne about the founding of Black Sabbath in Aston in 1969.

Posters, flyers and photographs from the Birmingham music scene of the 1960s and 70s when bands entertained the city's youth at legendary clubs like Mothers.

The long-gone venue above a suit hire shop in Erdington High Street was where Pink Floyd recorded some of the live set for the album Ummagumma in 1969.

Other installations celebrate Black Sabbath's first three albums with music and images from records including Paranoid and Master of Reality.

The exhibition also looks at the fans with collections loaned from music lovers who have built up their own records of music history in the form of tour t-shirts, tickets and posters.

Costumes, stage props and instruments are also displayed, with people given the chance to don a wig and rock out on guitar or drums in an interactive section.

There is also an exploration of the political side of the music charting the anti-establishment "DIY" movement of the 1980s which gave rise to bands such as Napalm Death.

'Modest backgrounds'

A huge piece of artwork charts the "family tree" of heavy metal and how the various singers and musicians have moved about between bands.

The work was produced by artist and illustrator Bunny Bissoux.

She said a lot of research had gone into charting the links between the big names of heavy metal.

The close links between the scene's musicians in the Black Country is something KK Downing also appreciates.

"Most of the lads, myself included, came from modest backgrounds so it was quite amazing how the whole movement took off."

Home of Metal will run from 18 June to 25 September at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

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