22. Birmingham, England


England’s second most populous city after London, Birmingham has made a considerable contribution to music history.

Multicultural Birmingham has proved itself to be a welcoming home for artists and bands spanning genres as diverse as ska, jazz reggae, punk, heavy metal and electronica.

The city’s flagship band is arguably the heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, whose crushingly loud, dark and Occult-inspired sound, earned them a large cult following and big selling albums like Paranoid and Master of Reality. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne became infamous for his wild stage antics and heavy drug and alcohol use, and was eventually fired from the band before a later reconciliation.

Such is Birmingham’s heavy metal heritage (it is even suggested by some to be the outright birthplace) that one of the Sabbath’s main peers, Judas Priest, also hail from the city. Furthermore, though they were actually formed in London, rock behemoths Led Zeppelin maintain a strong association with Birmingham and the West Midlands, as lead singer Robert Plant and late drummer John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham were born in the area.

Also in the 1970s the Electric Light Orchestra had huge commercial success with their classical inspired rock, even if the band were derided by many critics for their often pretentious sound and aims.

Birmingham’s stated multiculturalism coupled with the high unemployment in the 1980s seemed to inspire a lot of the ska and reggae music that arose out of the city in that period, including the politically concious chart-botherers UB40 (named after a Unemployment Benefits form) and The Beat, who were similar in style and ethics to their more famous peers The Specials from nearby Coventry.

The 1980s also saw the all-conquering New Romantic band Duran Duran take on the world, and Dexy’s Midnight Runners earn themselves several big hits with their soul influenced pop too, with ‘Come On Eileen’ reaching the top of the UK charts.

In the Britpop era, Ocean Colour Scene and The Charlatans (the latter usually more associated with the ‘Madchester’ scene) were the biggest bands of that movement that Birmingham had to offer, and in more recent years the likes of Editors have led the post-punk revival. Broadcast have won critical admirers in the 2000s with their moody electronica.

Associated acts: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Robert Plant, The Moody Blues, UB40, Ocean Colour Scene, The Charlatans, Editors, Duran Duran, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Streets, Napalm Death,  Wizzard, Electric Light Orchestra, Fine Young Cannibals, Broadcast