I met up with a few of my colleagues in Birmingham City Centre yesterday. We had some visiting partners from across Europe who are working on a project with us about music heritage, so we thought it appropriate to take them to the Home of Metal exhibition.
One of our PhD students, Rob Horrocks, has been heavily involved in the development of the exhibition, and his research is into the ways in which music history can be told other than simply the simple narrative about famous bands and the recordings they make.
As a result, the exhibition is extremely rich and packed with stories of fans, memorabilia and other aspects of musical cultural heritage… and it’s a really great exhibition…
It starts with the heavy industry in Birmingham and moves through the development of heavy rock music, taking some key dates as starting points and pointing to the influence of venues and musicians from other genres (particularly touring American blues artists), and then goes through the story of heavy metal’s development.
But that side of it seems to be the frame within which the story is told, rather than the story itself.
There’s a real emphasis on the fans, and they are brought front and centre into the exhibition – getting almost as much prominence as some of the most famous artists.
There’s also a focus on interactivity and getting a feel for the culture of the music – from the range of t-shirts, jackets, patches, badges, guitar picks, magazines, concert tickets and other ephemera that appear everywhere throughout the exhibition – to a place where you can even strap on a Flying V guitar, crank it up to 11 and play a distorted riff yourself.
For me, the Grindcore area was the best and most well-executed part of the exhibit, because it brought together all of the fanzines, fan made mix tapes, stories about artists communicating with fans and the development of the punk-inspired DIY scene.
Everything from the glam and ostentatious costumes of heavy metal in the 1980s to the handcrafted magazines – the action figures to the collecting activities of fans, the Home of Metal exhibition proved to be a really fascinating insight into one of the real claims Birmingham has to be a city of important musical heritage. There are others of course (as Jez Collins’ Made In Birmingham: Punk, Reggae, Bhangra film demonstrates) – but the “home of heavy metal” is a pretty solid claim.
The exhibition is only on until this Sunday. It’s definitely worth a visit – and it turns out to be a really great place to take newcomers to our city.