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Black Sabbath: 50 years, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery review – not heavy going | reviews, news & interviews

Black Sabbath: 50 years, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery review – not heavy going

Black Sabbath: 50 years, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery review – not heavy going

Half a century of metal is celebrated in Sabbath's home city

Black Sabbath were never subtle (photography by Katja Ogrin)

The well-spring of certain musical genres and hometowns of certain influential musicians have long been a source of civic pride – and a boost to the tourist industry – in many clued-in parts of the world. One only has to think of the co-opting of Bob Marley’s life and influence in attracting tourist dollars to Jamaica or the raising of the Beatles to mythic status – bus tours and all – in Liverpool.

Birmingham, arguably the birthplace of heavy metal through the music of the magnificent Black Sabbath, however, has been slow to give appropriate due to its own sons and rock’n’roll heroes. For, despite what viewers may have gleaned from MTV’s Meet the Osbournes, John “Ozzy” Osbourne and his confederates were born and came together in this industrial and unglamorous Midlands’ city.

In the light of Birmingham’s civil authorities doing nothing to celebrate these musical titans, however, local experimental music promoters, Capsule, through their Home of Metal project, have decided to take matters into their own hands and to give respect where it is due. The “where” in question is at the prestigious Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, for an exhibition of album art, stage costumes, photographs, film, posters, t-shirts and battle jackets, as well as fan art and a hefty dose of social context.

It’s fair to say that the 1967 Summer of Love had a somewhat limited influence in Birmingham. Gaining more of a foothold on the imaginations of the City’s youth were the influence of local heavy industry, TV news images of the Vietnam War and other state-sponsored violence, the aesthetic of horror films, drugs and alcohol. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward of Black Sabbath translated urban alienation and conflict into music, by merging American blues music, horror films, distortion and serious amplification and by 1969, were making quite a mark throughout the world.Black Sabbath: 50 Years is as much a celebration of the influence of the band as it is of their artistic achievements. Album covers are displayed with explanations of their form and creation; eye-opening 1970s stage gear, including vertiginous platform boots and heavily fringed jackets with collars the size of aeroplane wings; and, most importantly, the fan art which was created by their audience from all parts of the world, gets centre stage – from Ric Lovett’s customised motorcycle (pictured above by Katja Ogrin), to strange fan-created paintings and Stephen Knowles’ extensive Black Sabbath t-shirt collection. For, as drummer Bill Ward, famously said: “It’s the people’s music, it always has been” and there has never been any room for creating distance between the band and their fanatical following.

In addition to the main exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery, Home of Metal have also curated a number of satellite shows at the Midlands Art Centre and elsewhere. Particularly notable among these is Ben Venom’s exhibition, All This Mayhem, of Heavy Metal quilting and the Show Your Metal exhibition of Heavy Metal-influenced jewellery. Venom’s quilting in particular, is a concept that shouldn’t work. A particularly American folksy tradition is not something that one might associate with West Midlands’ headbangers. However, pieces like “Black Sabbath FC” and “Iron Fist” demonstrate that, given enough imagination, it’s possible to successfully build bridges between any art forms.

  • Black Sabbath: 50 Years at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until 29 September 2019
  • Ben Venom: All this Mayhem at the Midlands Arts Centre until 8 September 2019


Great article! I’ve been campaigning forOzzy Osbourne for the last 8 years to be honoured with a knighthood for he is the voice and face of Black Sabbath. For more info head to “The Knighthood Of Ozz” on fb and also check out the petition at “Knight Ozzy Osbourne” Cheers, Helen.

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