My Birmingham – Miles Hunt
It is only in recent years that I have come to think of Birmingham as ‘home’ again. I formed a band with my friends in 1986 with express idea of ‘getting outta here’. And we did.
I was born in Marston Green Maternity Hospital in 1966, my family were from Perry Bar and Sheldon and apart from three years of my childhood spent in Derbyshire I spent the rest of it in Chelmsley Wood and Marston Green. After completing an education, of sorts, at Whitesmore Comprehensive School in Chelmsley Wood I was ready to move on.
Perhaps unusually for a kid with his dreams set on a life in Rock’n’Roll I left Birmingham for The Black Country, during the last couple of years at school I had made the acquaintance of a few musicians from the area, slightly older than me, that seemed more clued in on how to start up a band and get out into the wider world.
Even though these new friends were based in Stourbridge and Kingswinford they favoured Birmingham for their nights out and I happily followed suit. International touring bands regularly made stops at The Odeon, The Powerhouse, The Tin Can Club, Digbeth Civic Hall and latterly the NEC. Nightclubs that favoured the alternative rock music that we into were plentiful in the city too, The Powerhouse, The Sensateria, The Holy City Zoo, The Loft, Snobs and The Click Club were all ideal places to meet up with like minded music obsessives with whom we could watch the fashions change.
Two pubs on Hurst Street, The Fox and The Australian Bar, were great hangs too, usually gathering at either on a Friday night to discuss the merits of whichever bands had been on Channel Four’s ‘The Tube’ live music TV show that evening. Hurst Street also played host to Rockers Records, latterly becoming Swordfish, and Khan & Belle’s clothes shop from which you could procure all manner of second hand and unusual garments to state your aversion to the high street.
Record shops were the main reason for visits into the city centre though, the aforementioned Swordfish still exists today, down in Dale End there was Inferno, the old Virgin Records on Bull Street consumed the lions share of my earnings but somehow I always managed to spare enough to hit Threshold in The Bull Ring, Barry’s independent store in the Oasis Market and the HMV on New Street before heading home to study my purchases and dream of a life in music yet to come. By the time we formed our band, The Wonder Stuff, in 1986 and released a couple of singles on our own label, The Far Out Recording Company, it was an absolute thrill to see our own vinyl offerings stocked in these shops too.
Once having formed the band we were quickly spotted by renowned Birmingham music managers, John Mostyn, David Alldridge and Les Johnson, the latter of the two would guide our paths onto rock’s unsteady path for the better part of the next decade. Their credentials were solid too having managed the likes of The Beat, Fine Young Cannibals and General Public, all Birmingham based bands that we had huge respect for.
As the Wonder Stuff’s popularity grew by 1989 all four members of the band made the move to London, where we stayed for the remainder of the 1990’s. Somewhere in the middle of those years I took a second home in Shropshire, it is that house that I now live in full time and have done so for ten years. As cities tend to, during my time in London my favourite neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition and as I had no natural claim on the place I happily returned to The Midlands.
Since doing so Birmingham has once again become my hub. The band rehearse at Hockley Street Studios in The Jewellery Quarter and stay in apartments in the city centre when needed. After rehearsals we take respite in either The Church or Lord Clifden pubs on Great Hampton Street. The Church, I have recently discovered, plays a none too insignificant role in my family history too as my Great, Great Uncle Thomas Callow, who fell in the latter months of the First World War, most likely took his last pint on English soil in that very pub, as his home was situated across the street.
There’s another pub connection between our family and Birmingham’s city centre, my Grandmother, Mary Cox, kept the bar at The Crown on Broad Street for, wait for it… fifty years! Back then the pub was ‘the local’ for anyone that worked at the adjacent ATV, or Central, Television studios, she was the best of friends with all of the newscasters and the entire cast of the TV soap, Crossroads, and when she retired there was a two page spread about her time at The Crown in The Birmingham Evening Mail, which I still have a copy of.
These days Birmingham represents to me pretty much what it did when I was growing up in Marston Green, it is ‘town’ to me. It’s where I go to see bands, it’s where I go to buy records, yes ‘records’ as in ‘vinyl’, still at Swordfish and still in the basement of The Oasis Market. It’s where my partner, Erica Nockalls, and I go out for the night by way of a treat, eating at favourite restaurants and staying at favourite hotels. I shall do my Christmas shopping there in a few weeks and it’s where I need to get my guitars serviced, by John Diggins, before The Wonder Stuff tour again in December.
I’m glad I ‘got outta there’ when I did, if only to come back to where I started out and to appreciate what a wonderfully friendly and welcoming city it is. Okay, the town planners have let lunatics take over in the guise of architects, but I can overlook that for the shining soul of the city that I will always think of as ‘home’.
Miles Hunt, October 2014.
The Wonder Stuff will be playing an accoustic set at the Birmingham O2 Academy on Thursday 18th December with support from Mark Morriss (The Bluetones)
Miles Hunt’s first book is an insight into The Wonder Stuff’s fast moving and chaotic early years. The narrative is drawn from Hunt’s own personal diaries, meticulously kept as the band began it’s rise to fame. The book also features many previously unseen images of Miles’ early life as well as array of Wonder Stuff ephemera. In Hunt’s own words ‘The book does not take the form of a standard rock biography, it is instead a look into my personal diaries, which I began to keep from 1986, the year of The Wonder Stuff’s formation. It will provide the reader with an inside view of the band, previously unseen and unheard. I have been as honest as my memory will allow, in adding extra anecdotal text to the original diary entries. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, because from where I was standing we were all as guilty as the next man. As I have read these diaries for the first time since they were written, beginning over twenty-five years ago, I have been amused and saddened in equal measure.’
Treat yourself to a copy by visiting the Wonder Stuff site here