Ceremony: Pop Comes to Campus 1965-1995
The Bramhall, University of Birmingham
Birmingham Music Archive/Birmingham University
The Birmingham Music Archive is working hard to make sure the city’s musical heritage and history over the past 50 or 60 years, a tapestry that for the most part lies crumpled and neglected in the back of a dank shed, is cleaned up and restored to view. It’s a history so startlingly rich, and perhaps more so due to its ongoing underrepresentation, it’s like finally allowing the world to see those sketches by Giulia Lama or something, for so long, purposefully unheralded and kept so well hidden from the light.
When Tim London recently discussed the Madchester music scene with the Birmingham born and raised photographer Richard Davis who’d documented much of it, - they wrestled with why Birmingham never seems to quite catch the musical zeitgeist. There’s no Two-Tone, that would be sent from just down the street in Coventry, or Postcard-Edinburgh or Factory-Manchester or Backs-Norwich or Ron Johnson-Long Eaton.
What the Birmingham Music Archive are saying is that the magic was here all along and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The Ceremony: Pop Comes to Campus 1965-1995 exhibition at the University of Birmingham takes the form of two unbroken collages permeating the Bramall building walls, tracking the history of the amazing bands that beat a path to the city to perform live day after day between 1965-95. The ancient and the less so. There's a visual feast of handbills, tickets, posterart, original photography and set lists adorning the walls. From the ancient - The Animals, the Yardbirds and the slightly less so, maybe where I came in… those late 70s bands, The Cure, The Human League, REM, Gang of Four, Dancing Did, The Higsons, John Cooper Clarke and way way way more…
With some poignance, the upper floor features a large portrait of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, onstage for the final time, at Birmingham University, 2nd May 1980. It is totally exemplary that the exhibition marked a shared history and legacy this way.
Nostalgia, of course. But there’s something about those Birmingham Music Archive (BMA) guys... Sure, they are archeologists, of course, but it never feels that they’re after the staffordshire horde - looking to encase the past in jade, the work of the BMA seems absolutely couched in relating to the past to make new music happen now. In this way it’s important to see them as creators as much as documentarians. Wait… Before documentarians the world over complain before they break out of their archives… I like documentarians too. I even love fake archivists, how about the Outsideleft film editor Lake as 'The Archivist' in Nick Cave's 20,000 Days on Earth movie? Excellent. Folks are welcome to be fixated on the past and I know too, oh, oh, oh... Just, oh get over it documentarians. The future is now.
"Because memory is what we are."
Nick Cave (20,000 Days on Earth)
Ceremony is accompanied by a superb in content and detail fanzine put together by Mairi, Emma and Orlagh, featuring reviews often culled from media as far back as the 1960s. I even love their fonts. They’ve also put together a ‘Ceremony’ playlist which I’ve borrowed here.
Original music all seems to have dried up and got mouldy and come to a bit of a juddering halt in the UK by the mid 90s, and I kind of remember visiting England then, and all the eye-catching and interesting looking boys and girls that you’d see on the tube carrying their guitars a decade earlier all were carrying boxes of records - off to their DJ set instead. And so for the University walls that's where the story ends.
Maybe the past was a more fertile time for live music. For that form of storytelling. Everything was less corporate then. Less instant hegemony. As an ancient musician currently building out a live band with mainly older musicians - which is sort of like repopulating a care home, post-covid, there are vacancies and we’re choosy but not too choosy - the history lesson from the University of Birmingham is that the greatest bands pleased themselves and I don’t think that the Ancient Champion art/punk/gallery openings type band will feel the need to be very entertaining on anyone else’s terms at all.
Ultimately, having a cup of coffee or whatever you fancy beneath the music memorabilia in the foyer of the Bramall is a pretty cool place to be. There are masses of details here and one, total shocker I suppose for me was the scarcity of female performers back in the day. Few and very far between. Hmmm. Going to ponder that for a while, as I do. Go. Go. Go.
Main Image of Joy Division by Mick Emerson
Ceremony: Pop Comes to Campus 1965-1995
Bramhall Hall, University of Birmingham
Birmingham Music Archive/ Birmingham University
24th March - 28th October 2022