Friday 07 June saw the Birmingham-born writer, broadcaster and DJ Dave Haslam return to the city to give a talk at the invitation of Vivid Projects.

Haslam’s work, particularly his writing on Manchester, superstar DJs as well as the cultural memory of the 1970s and his wider journalism speaks in an intelligent and accessible way to the important of music to place and for public history.  The Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research sponsored the event, which dealt with a number of issues pertinent to our ongoing research, teaching and knowledge transfer activities around music, identity, archives and cultural heritage.

Haslam’s talk was entitled ‘Searching For the Young Punk Rebels’ and was conceived as part of Vivid’s ambitious 8-month opening season ’33 Revolutions’ which poses the question: can art and culture be a catalyst for social change? More specifically, it was presented as part of the series ‘A Certain Sensibility: Films From the English Underground’ which featured rarely seen early films and music videos (for British industrial/ post-punk band 23 Skidoo) by film maker Richard Heslop, who has directed music videos for legendary bands including The Smiths, New Order, Happy Mondays, The Cure, and The Shaman.

The ‘blurb’ for this event itself told of how Haslam’s talk sought to:

 explore and celebrate music activity in Birmingham from 1976 to 1982, drawing on interviews with Lesley Woods, Kevin Rowland, and Duran Duran’s John Taylor (among others).
The music scenes in Manchester and Liverpool from the period are world famous.  But where’s Birmingham on that list?  The city that gave birth to the Prefects, Spizz, Steel Pulse, the Au Pairs, and Dexy’s has tended to be overlooked in most received histories of the era. Haslam will open the event with a provocation that brings a unique and perhaps controversial insight into the punk and post-punk eras.

The nature of the provocation Haslam presented related to the recognition and location of Birmingham in a wider cultural consciousness – local, national and international. With a knowledge of the city during a particularly vibrant – if overlooked – moment in its musical history, as well as having been a participant in Manchester’s ‘rise’ to prominence, he is a well-placed observer. Haslam is also an acute and reflective analyst whose insights are measured and engaging.
Ultimately, Haslam’s take on the importance of the past and how contributes to how we think of ourselves in the present, is inflected by a very ‘punk’ ideal. For him, culture is not simply that which is consigned to the past, to be fought over in its moment of consumption it is also something that we are actively engaged in making and remaking. To this end, it was apposite that his interlocutor for the evening was our very own Jez Collins who has founded and curates the Birmingham Music Archive.

The BMA’s mission is predicated on an objection to the way in which the city’s cultural history is elided in accounts of music and that everyone has a part to play in generating and celebrating that story.  In turn, BMA objectives suggest that this practice has a potentially positive role to play in civic pride.

As was demonstrated in the discussion and in questions and observations from the sold-out audience, pride has a role to play in the self-mythologising of place. While it can be frustrating to hear the clichés of ‘Manc-swagger’ and ‘Brummie self-deprecation’ trotted out in these moments, and while such forums can prove problematic for gaining a hearing for some, and in the management of discussion, this was a productive night. Indeed, it was useful to hear from voices critical of the very idea of music heritage and how we tell our stories and whether such arguments really mattered. Such events will rarely come up with a consensus or even coherent sense about what really matters and how to make sense of it. It is best to think of them perhaps as sites for working through ideas and indeed – for some – to simply voice their own memories and claims for a part in cultural heritage rather than attempting to capture and direct it.

Jez Collins (BCU, Birmingham Music Archive), Dave Haslam (Manchester and Birmingham), Yasmeen Baig-Clifford (Director Vivid Projects).

Perhaps Sebastian Olma best captures the gist of the evening. Olma is a scholar who was visiting Birmingham for the first time in order to discuss his book ‘The Serendipity Machine’ and to consider the city’s creative industries:

What came up during the discussion was quite interesting in terms of what seems to be a rather ambivalent sense of (or search for) Brum’s urban identity. The discussion sort of wavered between complaints of having unfairly lost the pop-cultural credits to London and Manchester and a “so what!?” attitude, claiming pragmatism and understatement, embedded in a radical multiculturalism as the core of Birmingham’s identity. Interestingly enough, this duality was also what we encountered at the design festival. I really wish Birmingham the courage to build its future on the latter attitude. I think this would really help creating the conditions for valuable encounters and exquisite collisions throughout the city.

More information can be found here.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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