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Despite the city suffering an apparent crisis of cultural confidence, Mark Elliott’s visit to Birmingham in search of vinyl treasure reveals a happy hunting ground

The trip

Now, if Oprah Winfrey was writing this piece, she would give this city a good talking to. It isn’t just the one occasion; it seems to happen almost everywhere: “We’ve never been good at producing credible bands”; “the shopping isn’t as good as it used to be”; “you won’t find it like that here”; even “why are you here?”. It seems Birmingham is suftering from something of a confidence crisis, and I’d like to suggest that it needs to pull itself together.

A sense of discretion prevents me from identifying who said what, but it surprises me. True, some much-loved record shops such as Reddingtons have bitten the dust (but some great ones survive); true, Duran Duran aren’t Th Doors (although they tried to be on 1995’s Thank You); true, the trafic’s a challenge (but parking’s a doddle); and, true, for a city this size, vinyl shopping is a little sparser than you’d imagine. But – and it’s a significant but – this is the only place where I’m othered a cup of tea while cratedigging; where I find mint New Musik albums in the bargain bins and where I’m othered loads of vintage music magazines – including pristine copies of Th Face – for less than the price of a latte apiece!

Th great and the good – Steve Winwood and Traffic, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, Ali Campbell and UB40, Joan Armatrading, even Toyah, representing just a modest selection, broke out from Birmingham. It’s comfortably Britain’s second biggest city in terms of its population size (if not its cultural kudos and its own self-confidence), and in the 1960s, there was a live scene as big here as in Liverpool – although only Th Move came anywhere close to Th Beatles’ level of success. In the 1970s, ELO were chasing Wolverhampton neighbours Slade for chart positions; while in the 1980s and 1990s, Duran Duran conquered the world and Ocean Colour Scene briefly captured the Britpop zeitgeist.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Long Live Vinyl - Aug-18
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