Stephen Pennell ©
Lots of individuals and organisations work hard to help the Birmingham music community, and I’m not too shy to stake a claim as one of them. I’ve written reviews, conducted interviews, started a website and authored a book - King City, all with the avowed intention of seeing Brum take its rightful place at the top table of world music cities. For me at least there’s no money in it, but to paraphrase one of Birmingham’s greatest bands, it’s a labour of love.
Personal gratification comes from the enjoyment of the King City Online readership, the often-expressed appreciation of the artists we cover, and the fellowship of those with similar goals, like Jez Collins of the Birmingham Music Archive, whose drive and know-how will result in the opening of a much-needed music museum in 2026.
Pete Steel at Brum Radio does sterling work as the station’s head of music and has just started his own Catch The Buzz record label, while Adrian Goldberg puts together a brilliant Brum Radio show called Adventures In Music. The team at BBC WM Introducing passionately promote unsigned talent and Mark and Lee Piddington make great shows at Raw Sound TV. I could go on for hours but there are too many to list in a readable blog.
As much as we all try individually, we can only scratch the surface. The city of a thousand trades is now the city of a thousand acts. Recognition for artists, let alone DJs, producers, buskers and bloggers is incredibly hard to come by because of the huge amount of talent fighting for attention. This is why the Birmingham Music Awards is such a great idea.
Founder Jo Jeffries (top 5 hitmaker and former Atomic Kitten) and Simon Pitt have a passion for the city and its music scene that is genuinely heartfelt and altruistic. Between them they’ve pulled together a team of ambassadors from across the region, including yours truly and many more people with actual talent, with the aim of covering every angle of the local music biz. The team includes sick rappers like Sanity and Dapz On The Map, incredible talents like Reuben James, vibe-wrangler in-chief at Magic Garden studio Gavin Monaghan, entrepreneurs like Despa Robinson. Their ranks have now been swelled by Jaki Graham and her daughter Natalie, who as well as managing her legendary mom, hosts her own show on BBC WM.
As such the Birmingham Music Awards can rep the scene like no other organisation. Its thirty-odd categories of awards give literally hundreds of artists and music-related sectors the boost they need to get their art in front of a receptive audience, the oxygen of publicity from media interest, and ideally provide the hope, support, opportunity and inspiration necessary to keep our creatives in our city. Many of us do what we can as individuals, but it’s as a collective we can win.
On Friday (May 20th), I attended an event at the lavishly appointed Millennium Point, put together by the venue’s resourceful and dynamic commercial director Rebecca Delmore - with the help of the Birmingham Music Awards team of course. The event was to announce the launch of the BMA’s new Community Interest Company (CIC), Music for Birmingham. We also learned about sponsorship opportunities for businesses eager to help the city’s artists as they attempt to bounce back from the catastrophic impact of Covid on live music and the woeful government response, which left popular music feeling forgotten and abandoned - ironic and shameful considering how we relied on it to help us through lockdown.
There were messages of support from the unlikely double act of Judas Priest and West Midlands mayor Andy Street, and a particularly poignant one from the late, great Brian Travers, one of the BMA’s most passionate supporters. My attempt to hold back the tears was sadly in vain.
I chatted with the Birmingham Film Festival’s Dean Williams, Jaws’ manager Paul Schofield, Twang producer Gavin Monaghan, and Country act and former BMA winners Gasoline and Matches. I was appropriately sycophantic (I think I might have curtseyed) towards Jaki Graham, gave her daughter Natalie a copy of my latest book, and begged blogger Wallis Brown to write for King City Online. I saw TV presenter Phil Oldershaw, PJ Ellis of Big Brother fame, and Iwan van Hetten of Brooklyn Funk Essentials, who has worked with… well, everyone really, including Mariah Carey. Producer and songwriter Simon Duggal was in attendance - world famous for his work with Shania Twain, hood famous for his work with Apache Indian.
Councillor Jayne Francis was there in her capacity as Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Culture, as was filmmaker George Francis, who was there in his capacity as 0121’s most relentless champion. Thomas Atlas, Indigo Marshall and Wrenne lit up the room with their performances, while Jonny Amos from BIMM/Songlab did the same with his infectious enthusiasm. All in all it was a really enjoyable and informative afternoon, and like all BMA events, a great networking opportunity.
The Birmingham music community is so much more than B-town, Black Sabbath and Bhangra - it’s Godsflesh, gospel and grime too. Dexy’s, Dodgy and Duran Duran are amongst our favourite sons; but don’t forget the daughters - the likes of Ruby Turner, Joan Armatrading, Lady Leshurr and TrueMendous. When it comes to diversity, the music scenes of other cities play checkers, while we play 3-dimensional chess - and the Birmingham Music Awards are here for every piece - not just the kings and queens.
The BMAs will host their first live ceremony for three years, at the iconic Town Hall on September 21st. Find out more at their website.