Nominations for BMA 2022 are now open. Stephen Pennell gets his first one in early.
My scream of excitement was enough to make the cat dart out of the living room and fool my wife and kids into thinking The Villa had scored a last-minute winner. I had been named Brum Bastion by the Birmingham Music Awards and try as I might, couldn’t contain myself. Honoured and grateful though I was, over the following few days I came down with a severe case of impostor syndrome. Not only were icons like Ruby Turner, Jim Simpson, Phil Etheridge and Mike Skinner among the unsuccessful nominees, but my pick wasn’t even on the list - Tim Senna. He works for, amongst others, the BBC, and in his case it could stand for Birmingham’s Best Cheerleader. Let me start at the very beginning…
Before pontificating on music, I was a football writer - not so much about the game itself, more our consumption of it as fans - but when my work/life balance (two new babbies) got in the way of the fixture list, I had to find inspiration elsewhere. I didn’t know where to look until, around the same time, four women from my city were establishing themselves on the local music scene.
Call Me Unique’s Urban Gypsy EP blew me away; Lady Sanity’s Summer In September changed the weather in my world; and AffieJam’s music on Soundcloud was amongst the most beautiful I’d ever heard. Completing this quality quartet of second city songstresses was Namywa and her Garden of Eden EP – full of forthright opinions, clever lyrics, and mesmerising melodies. I listened to their songs, bought their CDs, went to their shows and reviewed each of them several times. They inspired me to write and I thank them all for being so welcoming and pleasant to the geezer who started off standing at the back taking notes and ended up at the front singing along.
Hoping to hear more of them, I started listening to BBC WM Introducing on a Saturday night, in the days when Louise Brierley was host alongside local DJ and anarchist Jacky P. The first hour was usually a fairly gentle amble into the show - a bit of indie, maybe some jazz, soul and RnB, the odd gentle singer-songwriter. If Jacky behaved himself for the first sixty minutes (not always a given), Louise would let him play a couple of his favourite local rap tunes.
When she went on holiday for a few weeks, Jacky got his mate Tim Senna in to help him out. They started their first show with a trio of 140 bpm grime bangers on which they forgot to edit out the swearing, and the three episodes they presented together sounded like they were recorded by a couple of unsupervised kids in detention who had broken into the media studies room and run amok. Chaotic, irreverent - and essential listening.
That led me to the vlogs on YouTube. Oh my days, the vlogs. Tim and Jacky P running riot in the Sunflower Lounge with nothing but infectious enthusiasm, easy charm and a camera phone. Chaotic and irreverent again but, this time, essential viewing. I was hooked after a few minutes of the first one I saw, filmed on International Women’s Day, when Tim won me over by superimposing images of my musical heroines Namywa, Sanity, Unique and AffieJam on the windows of the Sunny. From that moment on I knew he was a kindred spirit.
The rest of the vlog is now a bit of a blur; a hazily remembered rockumentary about the new wave of Birmingham indie bands arseing about in the Sunny’s tiny dressing room, occasionally joined by support acts, fans, and on one surreal occasion by one of Sugarthief’s moms with sick on her cardigan. The vlogs made me feel like I was missing out on something special, inspired me to get along to some of the gigs and gave me a whole new vibrant and exciting scene to write about. So you could say that Tim, along with Jo Jeffries, Lady Sanity, Call Me Unique, AffieJam and Namywa, was the main inspiration for my book King City.
Tim is now a fixture alongside Alex Noble on BBC WM’s Saturday night show and also presents his own on Switch 107.5fm. He’s doing bits on Radio One, where his easy presenting style and relaxed interview technique will one day hit the airwaves. He and I have had the occasional-but-nothing-personal cross word about the BBC and their view of our hometown - he’s a passionate advocate, I’m more of a cynic - but everything he does, he does for Birmingham, and I will always applaud that. I’ve had a great year as the Birmingham Music Awards’ Brum Bastion, and I’d be hard pressed to think of a more worthy successor.
Nominate your favourites for the 2022 Birmingham Music Awards here…