INTERVIEW: Jez Collins, Birmingham Music Archive

People’s History of Pop interviewed Jez Collins, the man behind the Birmingham Music Archive, about ‘activist archiving’ and uncovering Birmingham’s pop music heritage

A young Bobby Gillespie playing with Primal Scream at The Click Club, Burberries in 1986. Photo: Dave Travis, via the Birmingham Music Archive
A young Bobby Gillespie playing with Primal Scream at The Click Club, Burberries in 1986. Photo: Dave Travis, via the Birmingham Music Archive

In 2008, Jez Collins wanted to find out more about the musical history of his city, Birmingham, but when he went looking for books in the local library, he found nothing about music from Birmingham. When he read music magazines, Britain’s second biggest city rarely got a mention amidst talk of London, Manchester and Liverpool.

“I grew up in Birmingham. I didn’t go to Black Sabbath gigs or hang out with ELO but I went to venues and record shops. I thought I would ask the general public, what is our history? What is it for you?”

So Jez set up the Birmingham Music Archive to capture the histories of well-known bands such as Black Sabbath, ELO, UB40, Duran Duran, Dexys Midnight Runners as well as individuals such as  Christine McVie from Fleetwood Mac, Nick Mason from Pink Floyd.  But he also wanted to ensure that bands who might have existed only for a short time, maybe who never released any records but who meant a lot to their fans and their city, were represented. He wanted them to also have the opportunity to share their histories and tell their stories. It’s not just about the bands either. The BMA celebrates the seminal venues and incredible clubs and gig venues as well as highlighting the role the city has played in the development of genres such as reggae and bhangra.

The archive is a website collecting content and memories relating to Birmingham bands, club nights, promoters, festivals, managers, fanzines, venues, record shops and more. Birmingham music lovers can send in photos, ticket stubs and memorabilia as well as comment beneath other people’s contributions.

Each memory often brings new ones from others who shared the same experiences. “A ticket stub, if you make it available, it actually triggers and prompts memory. It draws other people in. You don’t have to know the person who posted it, you don’t have to have been in the club at that time, but it triggers the memories.”

“I class myself as a citizen archivist who engages in activist archiving”, says Jez. “My history is not represented in the British Library or the National Gallery or Birmingham museums. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to investigate our own history. It’s important because popular music has never been deemed as an integral or important part of our cultural heritage…Actually, this is our history and it’s important to us and it matters that we preserve it.”

Jez knows that only too well because, like many people, he has saved stuff from his years of being a music fan that elicits important memories. When asked what his favourite piece of memorabilia is, he answers, “I don’t know, I have so much stuff. I think it would be my badge collection. It’s not a massive badge collection, but it’s badges I can relate to certain times, certain people, and certain moments in my life. I think that would be the one collection that encapsulates a particular period in my life. Or maybe a Bob Dylan ticket as well. Or a Bowie ticket. I’m going to stick with the badges.”

The BMA is a labour of love and Jez is also a full-time academic at Birmingham City University, researching the role of popular music in collective and individual identities.  “The academic work I am trying to do is to show that these things are extremely important and if we do not recognise them and we do not save them, then we are going to lose huge amounts of our cultural heritage.”

As well as their work online, the BMA will be co-hosting ‘Is Anyone Out There?’ Documenting Birmingham’s Alternative Music Scene 1986-1990 exhibition about Birmingham’s alternative music scene at Birmingham City University from May 3-28 2016.

People’s History of Pop – Episode One


Don’t forget to watch Episode One of the People’s History of Pop which will broadcast on Friday 15th April at 9PM on BBC 4. The programme will be available to watch on iPlayer shortly after broadcast.

Here is a clip from Episode One featuring Rolling Stones fan John Phillpot.

We are still crowdsourcing for the People’s History of Pop website and want to see your stuff. Upload your tickets stubs, photographs, records, teen band recording, memorabilia and more at PHOP.CO.UK

Episode One of People’s History of Pop – how to watch it!

Copyright BBC - Photographer: Ray Burmiston
Twiggy will present the first episode of PHOP. Copyright: BBC. Photographer: Ray Burmiston

The first episode of the People’s History of Pop is to be broadcast on BBC Four at 9pm on April 15 2016, as part of the year-long My Generation season.

Starting with the fifties, the season celebrates the history of pop music through the decades. Over four special weekends across the year, pop stars and music fans alike will give their own perspectives in this major season of tailored programming and content across the BBC. The stars at the centre of the pop scene and the people who loved the music will celebrate a given decade, with BBC Two focusing on the musicians’ reminiscences of the time and BBC Four telling the stories of those years through the fans’ experiences and memories in the ‘People’s History of Pop’.

We’ve interviewed those who have uploaded their stuff to the online People’s History of Pop project to make a film telling the fans’ stories from the decade 1955-1965.

Episode one will be presented by Sixties fashion icon Twiggy (to be broadcast on Friday 15 April). The programme will celebrate the decade in which we created our very own pop culture. It hears from skiffle players, fans of The Shadows, Liverpudlians who frequented the Cavern at the height of Merseybeat, Beatles devotees, dancers on Ready, Steady, Go!, mods, lovers of ska, bluebeat and Millie Small, and fans of The Rolling Stones.

Twiggy says: “I’m so excited to be taking part in the People’s History of Pop and telling the story of all that pop music meant to us in the Fifties and Sixties. This series is seen through the eyes of music fans, from lovers of skiffle to rock ‘n’ roll, pop to ska, and rhythm and blues to folk… it’s the precious music we all cherished, danced to and went giddy over. And music can evoke such strong memories. In fact, I can remember like it was yesterday, being one of those screaming girls at a Beatles concert. At age 13, I went with a friend to see them at Finsbury Park Astoria. My lovely Dad was going to pick us up afterwards, but at the end of the show we went to the stage door to try and see the group and so I wasn’t where I said I would be, and Dad couldn’t find us. He was frantic with worry but eventually found us and drove us safely home. It was a night I will never forget.”

Stories uncovered in episode one include a young Lonnie Donegan fan asking Lonnie back to his mate’s parents’ house so they could have an impromptu skiffle jam – and he said yes; what it was like to go to a recording of legendary music show Ready, Steady, Go!; and a schoolgirl’s dream comes true when The Beatles turn up at the pub where her mum was a waitress – but will her mum drag her out of school to meet her heroes?

Unearthed pop treasures include a recording of John Lennon’s first-ever recorded performance with his band The Quarrymen, at a fete in Liverpool on the day he met Paul McCartney for the first time – which viewers will see Twiggy listening to at the legendary Abbey Road studios; rare acetates of Merseyside musicians recorded by Percy Phillips (who also first recorded The Quarrymen once Paul and George Harrison had joined) in his living room in Liverpool; and Please Please Me in stereo – from a very rare pressing uploaded by a contributor.