Second City Sounds

By Owen Jameson

18 May 2024

Birmingham has a rich music history, so why is it overlooked?

Now, the title of this piece might be the first point of contention… For me, Birmingham is the second city despite the claims from the Mancs (sorry).

Now my apology to the lovely people of Manchester is over let’s talk music. In the UK certain cities get credit for being musical hubs of creativity: Liverpool with The Beatles, Manchester with Oasis and London with the Rolling Stones. But, where is the love for my beloved Brum? Surely there isn’t a musical void in the West Midlands?

Well – let me answer my own question. No, there isn’t a musical void in the West Midlands and actually, there’s a lot to be proud of. 

Past and present there is a rich selection of musical talent in and from Birmingham.

Black Sabbath

First and foremost, Black Sabbath hails from Aston. Sabbath are the fathers of heavy metal and perhaps the most influential band to come out of ‘Brum’. Featuring Ozzy Osbourne’s hauntingly unique voice and his let’s say, ‘eccentric’ stage presence, he takes his moniker as the Prince of Darkness seriously. Tony Iommi on the guitar, who despite losing two fingertips due to a factory accident thrashed out powerful riffs that could resurrect Satan himself. Geezer Butler on the bass alongside Bill Ward on the drums combined to make one of the most complete rhythm sections in heavy metal history. 

While I admit metal is one of the more divisive genres of music, without Sabbath a lot of other bands wouldn’t have been the same. Kurt Cobain, Rock ‘n’ Roll legend and frontman and lead guitarist of Nirvana cited Sabbath as one of his biggest musical influences (alongside another Birmingham band…), Chris Cornell, the frontman of Soundgarden loved Sabbath and Metallica alongside a plethora of other bands have stated the importance of Black Sabbath as an influence.

Robert Plant

Moving away from metal, Robert Plant (lead singer of Led Zeppelin) is from West Bromwich which may be the Black Country, but as it’s only a stone’s throw from Birmingham and has a ‘B’ postcode I’m including him. He is an icon of classic rock, Plant wrote one of the most famous rock songs of all time in Stairway to Heaven, in doing this his vocals have transcended the ages and cemented Plant’s place as one of rock’s greatest-ever singers and songwriters.

Jeff Lynne

Jeff Lynne’s ELO are the other Birmingham band that Kurt Cobain cited as a musical influence and this in itself is perhaps enough to warrant a place in this article. However, regardless of Cobain’s plaudits, Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra is worthy of a place by its own merits. 

Jeff Lynne, in my opinion, is the greatest music producer of his time. If ELO started today, they would still feel futuristic and Jeff Lynne’s attention to detail coupled with an almost ‘space-age’ sound are undeniably iconic. As well as producing all of ELO’s songs such as Mr. Blue Sky and Don’t Bring Me Down, Lynne wrote all of the lyrics, sang on the tracks, and played guitar for ELO. 

If this still isn’t enough, Lynne as well as being a member of the supergroup the Travelling Wilburys produced songs for: Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bryan Adams and Roy Orbison among others. Because of this, Jeff Lynne deserves to be known as one of music’s greats.


The previous artists and bands are probably Brum’s biggest musical exports but there are others worthy of mention:

UB40 – an English reggae band, most famous for their song Red Red Wine. Ex-lead singer Ali Campbell even allegedly owes my dad a pint.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – who have iconic songs in their repertoire such as Come on Eileen.

Christie McVie – keyboardist and singer/songwriter for Fleetwood Mac.

Duran Duran – a pop-rock group famous for songs such as Girls on Film and Hungry Like the Wolf.

JAWS – an indie-rock band formed in 2012 who are one of the brightest bands to come out of Birmingham recently.

Hopefully, this article has shown that the Brummies can hold a musical candle to the Mancs, Scousers and Londoners. Birmingham has a rich, noisy history and a bright future with bands like JAWS and Mantarray. It’s time to give the Birmingham music scene some love, aye Bab?

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