June 20, 2024

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‘I just let it rip!’: jumbo amateur rock band bangs the drum for Brum | Birmingham

When Steve Groome started learning to play guitar after retiring, he never expected he would end up in a band.

“At 66, I’m not going to get a phone call from Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton. I might not even get in an averagely rubbish covers band,” he said. “But I don’t need to with this, we have fun. I just let rip.”

Groome is now playing his 12-string electric guitar for Brum Rocks, a project bringing together hundreds of amateur musicians across Birmingham for a mammoth summer rock concert.

Having recently been diagnosed with cancer, Groome, a former police officer from Longbridge, has found playing music as part of a large group a welcome distraction.

“It has been life-changing, really. It has really built my confidence. It’s a great outlet, and so good for mental health,” he said. “I wish I’d done this 40 years ago. I’d love to have done this as a teenager, but you can’t look back on life with regrets.”

Last Thursday evening, dozens of musicians playing instruments ranging from drums and guitar, to ukulele and harp, gathered to rehearse the song that will form the centrepiece of the concert in July.

Written by Birmingham’s poet laureate, Jasmine Gardosi, Brummie Steel is designed to be a new anthem for the city referencing its industrial heritage and status as the birthplace of heavy metal music.

Steve Groome at rehearsals. He says he wishes he had joined a band as a teenager. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

“At a time when, as Brummies, we are faced with a lot of demoralising news, to be able to do something for morale – to give people hope, remind people of their grit – I feel very honoured,” said Gardosi.

“So much of Birmingham’s music came from adversity, so much came from the powers that be oppressing Brummies, especially people from migrant communities or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. It came from pressure, and I thought, what better image to describe that than steel?

“We are a city of people from all over the world and better for it, the same way steel, as an alloy is stronger than pure iron, for having different bits mixed into it. That’s exactly what we are.”

The Brum Rocks project was born out of community music groups, or “Rock Collectives”, set up by the charity Misfits Music in parts of Birmingham.

The new anthem, Brummie Steel, was written by the city’s poet laureate, Jasmine Gardosi. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

“We found that they were so accessible to people who maybe wouldn’t call themselves a musician or a singer, but they would sing in the shower or had a guitar in their cupboard,” said Rosie Penny, development manager at Misfits Music. “We found that it was really improving people’s wellbeing and confidence so we decided to amplify it, and take it across the whole city.”

Maryline Introini, 43, said taking part as a guitarist had been a great way to meet an eclectic group of people: “It’s great because you’ll be playing, you have to be in the moment, you’re doing your thing, but then you look around and you see so many people smiling, and enjoying themselves around you.

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“Music is meant to be shared, and this really shows that.”

The project is open to anyone 18 or over regardless of musical background, and the charity is working with specific community groups, such as those helping the visually impaired, asylum seekers or the LGBTQ+ community, to broaden their reach.

It has come at a particularly crucial time for the city, where people are still reeling from the city council’s bankruptcy – which will mean 100% cuts to arts funding – while fighting to save a number of the city’s heritage assets at risk of redevelopment.

Jez Collins, the director of the Birmingham Music Archive, has recently won a 12-year battle to get the at-risk Crown pub, where Black Sabbath played their first gig, listed status.

It was seen as part of a growing recognition of the importance of Birmingham’s musical heritage. In the rock world, the likes of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and the Electric Light Orchestra were all founded there, while the city has also made huge contributions to bhangra and reggae.

“In the past couple of years, we have started to see a bit of change. This is not just about being nice and fuzzy and nostalgic – there’s real economic, social, cultural and political benefits from understanding our musical heritage. Our friends in Manchester, they do it brilliantly,” said Collins.

“I think Brum Rocks is all part of that process of saying: this city has an amazing music culture, we need to do more, we need to invest in it, and we need to grow it.”

Brum Rocks Live! will take place on Sunday 14 July 2024 at Forum Birmingham

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