Mike’s Black Sabbath Birmingham Tour

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:

The works van parked outside the Iommi family store in the 1960s (Credit unknown)

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.

The old Bull Ring Shopping Centre Credit: Birmingham Post

You can get a flavour of the time and place right here in this promotional film:

Postcard of the exterior of the new Bull Ring

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). 

Tony Iommi’s star is just a little further along Broad Street and part of the city’s Walk of Stars.
Postcard map of Birmingham Centre

And finally Mike shares some shots from the exhibition itself:

Names added for anyone who isn’t such a die-hard fan as Mike!

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:

Postcard from the exhibition: The band receive gold records for album Technical Ecstasy, 1976
Mike examines original equipment and stagewear worn and used on tour
Guitars from Tony Iommi’s own collection
Mike listens as Geography Cat’s dad plays Black Sabbath track Snowblind on the Epiphone Tony Iommi Signature SG
Postcard from the exhibition: Geezer Butler’s boot worn at Cal Jam 1974
Geography Cat loves to see a sphere of influence map
The anti-war lyrics of War Pigs by Black Sabbath, 1970
Gatefold interior photos of the album Black Sabbath Vol. 4 were taken live on stage at Birmingham Town Hall (10)
Birmingham Town Hall

All the locations mentioned in this blog feature on the map below:

3 Replies to “Mike’s Black Sabbath Birmingham Tour”

  1. What a fabulous collection of photographs and maps! The video clip about Tony Iommi and his disability and the creation of a new sound of music is amazing.

    1. This is a fantastic article! I am from Dublin, Ireland and have visited Birmingham many times. I am a huge fan of Black Sabbath and the guitar playing of Toni Iommi. My most recent trip was to see the exhibition. It was extremely well curated and the importance of place, and time too, in the development of the Black Sabbath sound was very well portrayed. That sound could not have emerged from any other location in the world.

      I look forward to the end of this pandemic so I can return to this wonderful, and constantly evolving, city.

      Stay safe and well everyone, and keep on rocking!


Comments are closed.