The headbanger's guide to Brum

Adrian Mourby follows a new Metal Heritage tour around the Midlands city

When I was a teenager, Birmingham Town Hall was the main music venue in a city drowning in car fumes. Modelled on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome, this solid marble edifice stood, like everything else in Brum, marooned on its own traffic island.

I would take my life in my hands to see the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra perform there. Our town hall had in its time premiered works by Mendelssohn and Elgar. But I knew it led another, darker life. Led Zeppelin played here, as did Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Birmingham, the home of 19th-century light industry, was also the home of 20th-century heavy metal.

It's a scary thought that while I, a Bournville lad, was taken to get my school shoes from Clarks, Ozzy Osbourne, an Aston boy, was sitting in El Sombrero drinking coffee. The story goes that he was found staring glumly at the poster for a Mario Bava film, wishing he could think of a better name for Polka Tulk Blues Company, the band he'd just joined. The title of the film, of course, was Black Sabbath.

Heritage comes round faster and faster these days. So you can't blame Birmingham for generating a new Metal Heritage tour, which will take headbangers back to the venues of their youth, assuming they can remember them. For me, someone who spent his teen years listening to Sibelius, it's a whole other Birmingham.

I returned last weekend and was pleased to see that the city has put a lot of its six-lane highways underground. Metal Guide in hand, I walked down Hill Street. At the bottom there will soon be a plaque to indicate where the Golden Eagle pub used to stand.

The Eagle was a blues venue in the 1960s and 1970s and its Art Deco façade should have made it a listed building. Instead, it was demolished, replaced by – nothing. This is a problem, when coming back to Brum. So much disappears in the first stage of an alleged improvement that never materialises.

Whiskey a Go-Go, the club where Ike and Tina Turner and Cream played in the 1960s, has gone, too. According to Chris Phipps, who wrote the Metal Heritage tour, it used to stand on the corner of Hill Street and Navigation Street. Another heavy metal plaque will be going up there soon.

The Futurist Cinema is still here, however. This was where the West Bromwich group Led Zeppelin turned up to introduce local audiences to their film The Song Remains the Same. Unfortunately, the only plaque on the Futurist reads "Spearmint Rhino".

The Crown pub is still in Station Street and is still a pub. According to Chris, the rooms upstairs were known as Henry's Blues House. Here Polka Tulk used to play before they morphed into Earth and then Black Sabbath.

Across the broad unlovely Queensway, Hill Street turns into Hurst Street. This is where the aspiring musicians who would one day be Judas Priest and Napalm Death used to congregate at El Sombrero. Their other focal point was the Diskery, a record shop that Chris's guide describes as "a high altar of records, a warren of vinyl".

Chris is a local boy, a film-maker who wants to see the musical contribution of Birmingham and the Black Country recognised. "The region, in its post-war dullness, worked very hard and played hard," he tells me. God, I remember the dullness. The Sixties did not swing in Birmingham as they did in London and Liverpool. Our life was so unexciting we looked forward to Crossroads. No wonder Ozzy went over to the dark side.

Chris is a mine of local information. The trail is now working to get those plaques up and soon there will be a podcast that you can take from venue to ghostly venue, bringing alive the sounds of my heavy metal homeland, assuming it doesn't deafen you first.

Compact facts

How to get there

Adrian Mourby was a guest of Staying Cool at the Rotunda (0121-643 0815;, which offers rooms from £99 per night.

Further information

Heavy Metal Birmingham (; Marketing Birmingham (

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits