Like Liverpool, Hamburg, Memphis and Detroit, Birmingham, has always had a strong industrial cultural identity. Its industrial backdrop has somehow contributed to the musical landscape, producing some iconic artists within the sphere of ‘popular culture’. With heritage being an ‘ever-changing concept’ (Frost, 2008, 177), and a current tendency towards seeing popular culture icons as something worth preserving, there seems to be a shift from the conventional approach to heritage as objects of ‘high culture’. The ‘MTV generation’ bemoaned by Rothman (2003, as cited by Frost, 2008, p177) could lead to urban regeneration for some cities, having a stronger pull than other types of cultural capital, owing to music’s ‘more powerful emotional influence’. Associations with political movements add a sociological context that helps to create a more fluid ‘history’ (however ‘totalising’). The danger in having a ‘flagship band’, as seen in the AC/DC study by Frost, and to a large degree with The Beatles in Hamburg, as researched by Fremaux & Fremaux (2013) is that the identity of that ‘flagship’ might create tensions, given that the cultural identity of a city is largely shaped by it. Liverpool has The Beatles as its flagship band, but has a vast infrastructure supporting new artists alongside them. Fans have continued to add to the heritage, solidifying the concept of their city having a ‘sound’, an audio identification.
The Fremauxs cite Gibson & Cornell’s 2007 Memphis case study, “Sound Tracks: Popular Music, identity and place”, in looking at how music is used in, ‘creating a relationship between physical space, memory and identity’ Fremaux, 2013, p2). Other cities have tried to recreate, sanitise, regenerate, romanticise, dramatise and totalise iconic musical moments with nostalgia and claim ‘cultural ownership’ of music. Where does that leave a city like Birmingham? Its sparse, sometimes overlapping, sometimes hidden musical heritage is so multicultural and diverse, largely thanks to the industrial opportunities attracting people from all over the world, that at first glimpse it might seem almost impossible to put into a musical nutshell. But that, to me, is the beauty of it…
Strategy for Birmingham
Avoiding walks of fame and hero worship, Birmingham’s strength lies in the diversity of musical output, which by my reckoning is second to none. There are obvious flagships but all genres need to be represented. If there’s one thing Brum is lacking it is connecting the dots, mapping out interconnections and celebrating all the different hexagons in the honeycomb. Collaborations are already rife within the city, and not just across genres and between musos. Music is ever more visual; festivals like City of Colours position street art in a family-friendly way (the present and future), alongside a nod to the musical ‘roots’ of the city (the past) and relevant local music acts. Such mixing of mediums and the past, present and future is a solid ethos and something that could contribute towards a wider strategy.
- Birmingham needs a centralised ‘House of Music’ (not house of rock or reggae-centric ‘flagship’-driven exhibitions but a massive building which encompasses many musical twists and turns, truer to its character and identity)
- Key ‘players’ from all scenes should be brought together to research and help represent (in an ongoing dialogue between the people of Birmingham to help create the ‘House’, which has many ‘Rooms’)
- UNIFICATION: A giant musical map connecting the dots and ongoing history of important locations across Bham, and ‘key’ artists across all genres / cultures
- A series of launch events to help instil pride and encourage more connections. (Once Bham people become excited about their city, this will spread internationally)
- Universities need to be involved (designers and creators are needed in the infrastructure of ‘heritage making’, There are indigenous and international community that is not being tapped into.)
- Interactive elements & new technologies to encourage ‘personalised experiences’(again looking at students potentially innovational input)
- Primary Schools across Birmingham do projects about Birmingham’s musical history
- Branding – we have no tagline ‘sound’ like ‘MerseyBeat’, ‘Madchester’ or ‘Memphis Soul’; do we need one?
- ‘Cross-cultural exchange programmes’ (eg. Mix up the Royal Ballet with local musicians).
- Celebrate pioneers (past, present and future)
- Get infrastructure sound (and encourage private investment, crowd funding and public sector interests
- Get choirs celebrating Birmingham music from across the decades by singing them
- Target Audience is local to international (Pride from the inside out, with international student involvement and a digital marketing plan alongside for global access- let’s avoid being internationally represented by ‘Peaky Blinders’ alone).