When I started the Birmingham Music Archive some years ago, the last thing on my mind, well it wasn’t even on my mind to be honest, was that one day I’d open a museum dedicated to Birmingham’s music culture. And yet…
The reason for starting the BMA back in 2009 still exists to this day, namely that we, the people of the city, the institutions, the organisations, the local governance bodies, all of us, still fail to document, preserve, celebrate, share and maybe even recognise the contribution that people from Birmingham have made to local, national and international music culture.
Whilst I’m interested in and do document the ‘famous’ bands and musicians I’m just as, probably even more so, interested in the bands who never ‘made it’, the venues that may have long gone, or the records shops where musical educations were provided, the promoters who put on shows, the designers of the posters for live gigs, the sound engineers, roadies, stage designers, rehearsal studio managers, the journalists, the booking agents, the band managers, the educators, the audiences and consumers of music, what we might term the music ecology, the things that make up the ‘music industry’ but I prefer to think of it as music culture.
This approach has resulted in over 10,000 people contributing and uploading memories and materials across our platforms and has revealed new narratives about music and the city. It’s incredible what is remembered and what is important to individuals and communities.
Initially these materials were all in digital formats but over time more and more people have asked if we want physical materials or even worse said they were about to throw out a lot of ‘stuff’ and would we like to have it. Instinctively, I’d say yes to both and then worry about what, or where, on earth I’d put this ‘stuff’! Fast forward a few years and we’ve now got the beginnings of a collection; an amazing photographic collection of early to mid 80s indie bands, some 70s posters from places like the Fighting Cocks, a near complete set of Brum Beat newspapers and assorted, flyers, tickets, posters and so on. Small, but definitely the beginnings of a collection…
Fast forward a couple of more years and my work with the BMA had started to take me into some unexpected areas. Mainly that of the planning and development world. For reasons too complicated to repeat here, I was introduced to a planning consultant who happened to be in an electronica band and a former grindcore musician who trained as an architect and is now a senior planning manager. Between them they introduced me to a Manchester-based developer who had plans for a major mixed-use development in Digbeth in Birmingham. Digbeth is recognised as the cultural heart of Birmingham, an area close to the city centre full of cheap warehouses and light manufacturing factories. Ideal for artists and creatives to take on affordable space. Of course, when this happens, the area becomes more attractive for people to live and work in and so more change and investment starts to flood into the area. So Digbeth is now home to one of Europe's largest infrastructure projects, the Highspeed Train line from London to Birmingham.
The area has changed, and will change further in the coming years. However, how this change is managed will be critical and the local council has challenged developers to reflect the local creative and cultural communities of Digbeth, its heritage and to engage with the communities of Digbeth so they can help shape the change that is coming. And this is how we’ve arrived at the proposed Museum of Youth Culture and Birmingham Music Museum. From working with Cole Waterhouse on helping to shape a cultural strategy for the site at Upper Trinity Street, how artists might be used across the site, about how communities might form, how the open park space could be utilised for cultural activities and so on. We developed the idea of creating space for two new museums that will become cultural anchor tenants for the site. A facility for those who do live and work in the area and a visitor attraction from which to encourage people from further afield to come to and learn about the city and its music culture.
We are in the very early stages of planning how and what the museum will be, look like and sustain itself so there is a lot of work to be done; feasibility studies, business plans and the like - but the vision is something I’ve had for a long time for the space. The museum will be populated with the musical materials that people keep under their beds, in their lofts and their garages; the photos, flyers, posters, recordings, diaries, magazines, demos etc. I want the people of Birmingham to enter the space and see themselves reflected on the walls of the museum, people who look like them, talk like them, live where they live and work where they work. I want that emotional connection to place, space and music and I want visitors to think if they can do it, so can I. That to me at least is what a museum should be. A space to reflect, a space to dream, a space to learn and a space to inspire.
If all goes according to plan, we’ll be opening the doors in 2025 and for the Brrummies reading this, we want you to get involved and send your music materials into the BMA and help us build the much needed Birmingham Music Museum! You can get in touch at jez@birminghammusicarchive @jezc or @brummusicpics or at the Birmingham Music Archive Facebook page.
Birmingham Music Archive Website here