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a city by city guide to the best indie clubs, bars, record shops and local bands

Birmingham, UK
by Debbie Foulds

Culture, history and stunning sights might not be features that spring to mind when you first consider Birmingham but in recent years Brum has undergone some heavy duty freshening up. The famed "concrete jungle" architecture, built in the 50s/60s as a result of damage from the WWII Birmingham Blitz, is gradually being replaced and retouched and the result is a buzzing and attractive city centre with plenty to keep the most inquisitive and critical visitor occupied and entertained. Musically, Birmingham is often cited as the birthplace of heavy metal. Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, as well as the rest of Black Sabbath were Brummies and Robert Plant and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) came from nearby. UB40 and Musical Youth ("Pass The Dutchie": a proud moment) emerged with the reggae and ska scenes of the 70s, and Dexys Midnight Runners produced three peerless albums in the 80s. In recent years the live music scene has flourished and a proliferation of live music venues catering to local, national and international bands has paved the way for a thriving local indie scene.


Clubs

Panic
The Sanctuary, 78 Digbeth High St, Saturdays fortnightly, £5/£4 NUS /£2 with flyer before 11.30pm
Brum's biggest indie night by a mile. Six rooms of indie/electro/funky bleepy beats/60s/EMO/karaoke/live bands. Take your phone. If you lose your friends you might never find them again. And a good book for the queue.
(www.myspace.com/panic_club)

Resurrection
Subway City, 27 Water Street, Old Snow Hill, Fridays fortnightly, 10pm-4am, £5/£4 NUS /£2 with flyer before 11.30pm
Panic's little brother, three rooms of indie, 60s and electrodisco.
(www.myspace.com/resurrection_club)

We Get Kicks
Barfly, Digbeth High Street, rear of The Sanctuary, Saturdays fortnightly alternating with Panic, 10.30pm-4am, £5/£3 NUS /£2 with flyer before 11.30pm
Request-friendly indie night, plenty of room to dance and live bands.
(www.myspace.com/wegetkicks)

Snobs Nightclub
29 Paradise Circus, Queensway
At one time Brum's pivotal indie club and holds a special place in the heart of most Brummie indieites. However, off the boil of late and the fact that they need a no chav policy says it all. Big Wednesday remains THE student indie night, if you can face the queue and extreme lack of personal space from overcrowding if you make it in.
(www.snobsnightclub.co.uk)

Tight Fit
Sunflower, 76 Smallbrooke, Queensway (Nr New St Station), 8pm onwards, £1
Possibly the most exciting and diverse range of eclectic bands in possibly the tiniest room in the city. Tends to veer towards the electro-scuzz end of the indie spectrum. It gets hot so not the place for sporting your new tweed jacket and thermals. Dates vary so check the website for upcoming events.
(www.myspace.com/chicksdigjerks)

The Sky Ain't Grey
The Boiler Room, The Big Peg, 120 Vyse Street, Jewellery Quarter, every 2nd Thurs of the month, £4 adv/flyer/NUS, £5 on the door, 9pm onwards
This new kid on the block promises upcoming bands and fuzzy indie disco. The pleasant living room style décor and cocktail style bar make a pleasant change from other Brum scum holes.
(www.myspace.com/theskyaintgrey)

Still No Word From Gaz
Sunflower, usually first Fri of the month, £1
Great little night featuring mostly local bands and a disco. Smiley hosts in the form of local band Murdoch. So called as Gaz Coombs was booked to DJ the first ever night and he never showed. What a rotter.
(www.myspace.com/stillnowordfromgaz)

Show and Tell
Promoter putting on various acts, mainly weeknights at the Flapper. Tends to cater to more indiepop/ experimental tastes.
(www.myspace.com/showandtellclub)

Ramshackle
Academy, 52-54 Dale End. Every Friday, 10.30pm-4am, £3
Long-standing indie night with reputation as rite-of-passage for young Brum kids. Been a few changes recently and some decent live bands in the second room, so maybe things are looking up.
(www.ramshackle.org.uk)

Circus
The Sanctuary. Every Friday, 10pm-3am, £2
Never been. Don't think I'd want to. I would guess that this is in the same vein as Ramshackle as it's done by some of the same people.
(www.myspace.com/circusrocks)

Bohemian Jukebox
The Bulls Head, Moseley 8.30-11 £3
Every other Tuesday a random assortment of acts decends upon The Bulls Head in Moseley. Sometimes acoustic solo artists, other times noisy bands or electronica specials. A fine blend. (D)
(www.myspace.com/bohemianjukebox)

Down At The Sugarfoot Stomp
The Bulls Head, Moseley, £1.50, the last Thursday of every month
Described as "All of your favourite hits from the 1920's to the 1960's". You'll be humming plenty more favourite hits from that era after you've visited too. (D)
(www.downatthesugarfootstomp.com)

The Autumn Store
Sunflower, 76 Smallbrooke, Queensway, one Thursday every month, free (unless there are bands playing)
The Autumn Store is Birmingham's night of the more obscure and interesting end of the indie spectrum. The play list is described as "classic indiepop, modern left-field indie, and songs which are pretty". They also put on bands for special occasions - such as their Christmas Party. (D)
(www.myspace.com/theautumnstore)


Venues

 

Jug of Ale
43 Alcester Road, Moseley
Mainly local acts but occasional upcoming touring bands, in the past including Oasis and Maximo Park. Usually Wed, Fri, Sat.
(www.myspace.com/thecatapultclub)

Academy
52-54 Dale End
Three rooms of about 2000, 500 and 200 capacity. Sticky floors, no atmosphere and poor viewing potential (especially the Academy 2) mean this does not rank amongst my favourite ever venues, but it's better than having to haul ass to Wolverhampton to see any touring bands as was the way ten years ago.
(www.birmingham-academy.co.uk)

Barfly
500 ish capacity. Dark, dingy, what you'd expect.
(www.barflyclub.com)

Flapper and Firkin
Kingston Row.
Local acts on Thurs/Fri/Sat. Sometimes indie, sometimes rock, check before you go.
(www.myspace.com/zootpromotions)

Medicine Bar
Custard Factory, Gibb Street, Digbeth.
Hosts weekly Club NME night (Thurs) but not included in clubs section as there never seems to be more than 10 people there once the bands have finished. Alright industrial style venue with the band area susceptible to poor quality sound. Possibility of developing hypothermia in winter. (Yes to tweeds and thermals and ear muffs for this one.)

NIA/ICC
Big acts in warehouse style sterile conditions. Best avoided unless absolutely necessary.

Symphony Hall
Usually a venue hosting musical events of the classical variety, but occasionally other musical styles. If the artist can get the difficult acoustics right, it'll likely be fab. Nick Cave made a good job of it recently.
(www.symphonyhall.co.uk)

Irish Club
Digbeth High Street
Occasional host to touring bands. About 500 capacity and a pretty good venue. Fastest bar staff in the world.

The Spotted Dog
New Canal Street, Digbeth
The Spotted Dog is a short walk from The Bullring, just off Digbeth High Street. It's around 100 capacity and plays host to many of Birmingham's local bands on Saturday nights. Best of all it's free. (D)
(www.myspace.com/the_spotted_dog)


Bars

 

Sunflower Lounge
76 Smallbrooke, Queensway
Fun 60s themed bar. Open till 2am at weekends. Often small club nights/bands downstairs. Gets packed at weekends as there's not really anywhere else (free) to go in the town centre for pre-indie clubbing.

Jug of Ale
43 Alcester Road, Moseley
Located in Moseley, the indie heart of Birmingham. Usually indie DJs at the weekends and 20-something crowds.

Flapper and Firkin
Kingston Row.
Pleasant settling by the canals, great for enjoying a summer's pint of cider. A favourite of the rock/goth element so expect to see a lot of people dressed in black with interesting piercings in the evenings.


Record Shops


Swordfish Records
14 Temple Street.
Located in the city centre, place you're most likely to find indie music by local acts and pick up gig tickets. Recently opened 2nd hand vinyl section is a bonus.

Tempest Records
83 Bull Street.
Three floors of indie, rock and dance, city centre.
(www.temrec.com)

Music & Video Exchange
8 Smallbrook Queensway
Just outside city centre. Punky edge.

Polar Bear
10 York Rd, Kings Heath
Good for second hand CDs.


Local Bands

 

Copter
Bluesy tunes by men in spacesuits whose numbers feature a droid who moves and talks.
(www.myspace.com/copter)

The Twang
Fun lad swagger with comparisons to Happy Mondays. Lead man Phil's between song banter is worth the entrance fee alone and their catchy tunes ensure tons of atmosphere and dancing.
(www.myspace.com/thetwang)

The Big Bang
Loud Datsuns style indie-rock but with one of We Are Scientists on drums.
(www.myspace.com/thebigbangrocks)

Misty's Big Adventure
Cult psychedelia fronted by nutter Grandmaster Gareth. A Bez-style dancing monster decorated by rubber gloves joins them onstage. See them to believe them.
(www.myspace.com/mistysbigadventure)

Gravity Crisis
Brilliant new band making waves. Like Graham Coxon having a bad dream.
(www.myspace.com/thegravitycrisis)

Kate Goes
Twee and utterly delightful. Find out where Kate Goes every gig. (D)
(www.myspace.com/kategoes)

Distophia
Melodic and loud, Distophia are one of Birmingham's few bands who you may find actually playing a gig outside of the city.
(www.myspace.com/distophia)


Miscellaneous


Electric cinema

Oldest cinema in the country. Sofas, waiter service and a slightly alternative programme. What more could you want?
(www.theelectric.co.uk)

Liquor Is Quicker
Amusing monthly ezine reviewing gigs in local area. Check it out for reliable and honest opinions on local bands. Sometimes too honest.
(www.liquorisquicker.co.uk)

Moseley
Place where people seems to move once they've left Uni. Bohemian atmosphere, lots of bars and pubs often putting on bands who live round the corner. I think various members of Ocean Colour Scene may still be knocking about somewhere but don't let that put you off too much.

Custard Factory
Located in Digbeth, trendy arty area which has some retro shops, art galleries and nice places to have a drink in the day.

Urban Village
Recently relocated to Hurst St from the Custard Factory due to the lease running out. All your 2nd hand 60s mod clothes, records, record players, chairs, curtains etc. You get the idea.
(www.urban-village.co.uk)

Broad Street
Mentioned only in case you're unlucky enough to accidentally wander there. You will recognize it by the men dressed in Ben Sherman shirts and women dressed in practically nothing, flanked by endless soul-sucking chain bars. My advice is run away, fast as you can, and don't look back.

Cadbury World
Do a tour and learn all about about the history of chocolate. In reality a big excuse to spend the day stuffing yourself stupid with twirls and curly wurlys. Sounds good huh?
(www.cadburyworld.co.uk/en/cworld)

Birmingham Nature Centre
Cannon Hill Park.
At only £1.80 to get in, this place is Birmingham's best kept Sunday afternoon outing secret. They have meerkats. And beavers. It's ace.
(www.birmingham.gov.uk/naturecentre.bcc)

The Balti Triangle
No trip to Birmingham would be complete without a visit to The Balti Triangle to try the local delicacy. There are many Balti Houses all over Birmingham, but The Balti Triangle itself is the area between Ladypool Road and the Stratford Road in Sparkhill, so you'd need a taxi or a bus if you're based in the city centre.(D)

Additional reviews by Dunc

Main Birmingham photo © Urban75

If you'd like to recommend a club, bar, record shop, band or any indie delight for inclusion in the Indie Travel Guide, please email us. If we've included a link to your band/shop etc, it would be lovely if you could link back to us. Thank you!

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