Geography Cat and his official stunt doubles Mike & Ike are all huge fans of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath. So Mike was thrilled to visit a major exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in summer 2019, celebrating the band in their home town. This blog post is appropriately published on February 13th, the anniversary of the release of the eponymously titled debut album in 1970. Never one to do things by half, Mike made a fieldtrip out of the visit to take in some important sites from the band’s history, he started with the band members’ childhood homes:
It’s easier to appreciate the location of these origins by looking at the map below which shows the childhood homes of Ozzy Osbourne (1), Tony Iommi (2), Geezer Butler (4) and the Newton Community Centre (5). You’ll need to zoom out a bit a see Bill Ward’s family home (3).
Black Sabbath rehearsed in this building in their early years, 1968-9, writing and rehearsing material for their first two albums.
“We booked a place in the Newtown Community Centre in Aston, across the road from a cinema, and started a whole new regime. Wicked World and Black Sabbath were the first two that were written during those rehearsals. We knew we had something; you could just feel it, the hairs stood up on your arms, it just felt so different. We didn’t know what it was but we liked it.”Taken from Tony Iommi’s book Iron Man, as told to T.J Lammers
The Community Centre is now closed and has been sold by Birmingham City Council to fund redundancy payouts and other cuts, badly affecting the local community as you can tell in this article by the Birmingham Mail.
Ozzy Osbourne had posted an advertisement in the shop Ring Way Music, inside the Bull Ring Shopping Centre (6). The advert said only, “Ozzy Zig Needs Gig, Has Own P.A.,” and that was enough to attract the attention of local musicians Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler.
You can get a flavour of the time and place right here in this promotional film:
Next Mike went to see the Crown Inn (7). The upstairs room at the pub was home to the weekly music club Henry’s Blues House, founded by local musician, promoter, band manager and record label owner Jim Simpson. Jim became Black Sabbath’s manager for the early years of their career up to the time of the band’s third album, and they performed here many times. Coincidentally this is also where Geography Cat’s Nanna & Grandad had their first date. Originally built in 1781, and a Grade II listed building, the Crown closed in 2014 when it was purchased by Japanese Development company Toyoko Inn.
Here is an interesting article about The Crown, Black Sabbath and a bid to to make the pub a cultural tourist attraction and celebrate its musical heritage.
Now to see the Black Sabbath bench and bridge (8): Located on Broad Street canal bridge, over the Birmingham Canal Old Line at the gateway to Brindley Place, the bench was created by Egyptian Artist Tarek Abdelkawi from an idea by Mohammed Osama. The bench incorporates the images of the band’s four original members.
The bridge itself was renamed Black Sabbath Bridge and a dedication ceremony and unveiling of the bench was attended by Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. The unveiling coincided with the launch of the major Home of Metal exhibition that Mike was on his way to see at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (9).
And finally Mike shares some shots from the exhibition itself:
One of the things Mike enjoyed most about the exhibition was how the importance of location was emphasised in the story of the music:
Much of the distinctive sound of heavy metal music owes a debt to the heavy industry of the area, including Tony Iommi’s hand injury, sustained in the metal factory where he worked. He tells the story here:
You’ll remember that the band used to rehearse in the Newtown Community Centre, opposite a cinema at the time. This helps explain how the band chose their name, as this Boris Karloff film would have played there:
All the locations mentioned in this blog feature on the map below: