I came back up to Birmingham on Tuesday night, fresh from two days on the South Coast working with the admirable and very listenable Coast 106, about whom I will post in detail soon. This was so I could catch the UB40 show at the Rainbow. This, in case you’re not from Birmingham, has been the talk of the town for weeks, reaching fever pitch last night, and flowing through to a front page feature in the Birmingham Post today, reviews on BBC WM, live streaming on Rhubarb and elsewhere, and other coverage, which I’ll come to.
Oh, it was good. Remember, UB40 have been doing this stuff for 30 years. They are road-hardened, professional, and very tight. So...they hit the stage, and steamed into One In Ten.
Wham. 500 people lock into sync and rock with the band for 90 cheerful raucous all-hometown minutes. A great night. And all because the UBs, led by Brian Travers, lent their support to a grass-roots campaign. I am so impressed with the gesture. It makes you proud.
There are several stories here.
First: how often do you get the chance to see a band this big, this good, play a 500 capacity hometown venue, when they can just as easily fill the NIA? Only when the band themselves choose to play such a gig. Rare and precious. And the band knew it.
Second: there was - and is - a vital point to this gig: we need our local music venues. We need places for our fantastic local musicians to hone their stagecraft. We can’t allow one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country, one which generates vast amounts of money for the local economy, to be stifled by planning regulations. Take a look at the Rainbow's own page for more details. If you agree, do something. Join a Facebook group - try Keep Digbeth Vibrant for starters. Let your local councillor know how you feel..
Third: UB40 are undeniably rooted in Birmingham. There is a bond between band and audience I have only very rarely seen. I suppose if I got to see Bruce Springsteen play a bar in New Jersey, I might get a similar vibe. But I’m not from Jersey. This is where I live, and a gig like last night makes me feel proud for our local scene on so many levels. And whatever you do, you must take a look at the UB40: Music As Culture site for more background. It’s a revelation. You'll never get closer to a band and their fans.
Fourth: full personal disclosure here: When I was a local radio DJ in this town, I gave UB40 their first session, and that was in the days when radio paid bands to do sessions - just imagine that. So… and I’ve seriously only just realised this… that makes me the first DJ anywhere in the world to have played UB40 on the radio. Blimey.
The tapes were early mixes of tracks that went on to be released as the first single and tracks from the first album, produced by Bob Lamb. They were lovely. The songs had huge impact. I felt I'd hit the motherlode when I realised just how important they were to my audience. That's why I have a personal and very direct sense of involvement with the band - but that’s only my angle. Others, thousands of others, who supported the band through their early gigs, feel the same kinship for their own valid reasons.
Last but not least: I don’t know how many times I’ve made this point, and in how many ways I’ve said it. But I’ll say it again now. Stuff like this is pure gold; you can’t bottle it. It is a USP, in business terms. And yet most mainstream radio stations in our town, and elsewhere, continue to ignore this kind of thing. Last night’s gig was, yet again, a powerful demonstration of local identity, expressed though music, and in UB40’s case, as a unique and confident statement of local culture. It’s there: part of the fabric of our town. And this makes it an absolute gift to local media. All you need, if you’re in the media, is the humility to see that this sort of thing is probably more powerful and enduring than your particular outlet. Then you really need to measure it against juggernaut machine-tooled stuff like X Factor TV exposed product. And lastly, you need to make a decision on whether you want to get on board this thing, and how.
Up to you, media mavens. For me, it’s a no-brainer.