Birmingham at its musical best

Stephen Pennell reports from the 2019 Birmingham Music Awards.

The tickets weren’t cheap – VIP gold class and all that jazz. The accompanying e-mail said in a rather assertive way to arrive at 6pm and I thought we’d better comply.

So I was a bit miffed as my wife and I were still in the queue in a drafty and chilly Lower Trinity Street at quarter-past-six. Her hair was blowing all over the place and the little bit I’ve got left was trying its best to get messy. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve spent entire weekends out in the cold on Lower Trinity Street, flitting between Mama Roux, the Night Owl and Digbeth Dining Club, but always either anaesthetised by alcohol or wrapped up in a fishtail parka. Tonight neither was the case, and my mood wasn’t helped when a few people I vaguely recognised walked straight to the front and were allowed in.

On my own I’m not precious about stuff like that, but as my missus often says, “Happy wife, happy life”… and she wasn’t happy. I approached the security and did a bit of Don’t You Know Who I Am? at them. They took pity on me for forgetting my own name and they let us in. The first drinks were free and the rest were lovely, so having recovered from the hangover, I’m now battling against a drunken haze to let you know what else happened at the second annual Birmingham Music Awards, ready to drop more names than Preditah drops beats.

As we lined up for our VIP passes we bumped into post-punk politicos The Novus, one of the most promising bands in Brum, who invited us to the next in their series of secret location gigs in September. “Where at?” I asked, making an early play for the Silliest Question award. Then another two of my favourites, Luke Henry and B of CityLightz came over, and I introduced them to Kerri.

“Punching above your weight there aren’t you?” said lead vocalist/rapper B, and much as I wanted to punch him, I had to agree. After chatting to Michael out of Karkosa and bowing, scraping and going weak in the presence of greatness as I spoke to Steve Ajao, we went up to the intimate VIP area, only realising halfway up the stairs that we were climbing them with Lady Leshurr and her entourage. I also saw Remtrex, who once caused much controversy by recording a song and YouTube video while locked up in Winson Green. I thought it wise not to bother him.

Host Alex Noble from BBC WM Introducing erm… introduced himself, and did a brilliant job all night – efficient, witty, hilarious at times, particularly when begrudgingly handing over awards that he himself was nominated for. Sugarthief opened the live performances with one from their new EP and B-town 2.0 anthem Joy Affair, followed by Relley C with her song Priceless, to which Lady Sanity brought the flames.

Community project winners The Choir With No Name gave a rousing rendition of Tears For Fears’ Shout, and Namiwa Jazz put on the performance of the night with Jungle, backed by her brilliant band and dancers. While presenting the Best Male award, Andy McCluskey of OMD voiced his admiration for the show, and his jealousy that Liverpool has no equivalent.

Other highlights were rocking good shows by Fuzzbox, The Nu and Riscas, and bumping into The Clause by the bar. It may be a bit early into their career for them to be scooping up all the awards, but their day will come. Remember I told you, and if there were a best-dressed category, they’d have walked it.

After a rambling, bizarre, brilliantly entertaining and maximum rock and roll speech by Steve Gibbons, the lifetime achievement award brought back happy memories of seeing the recipient, Trevor Burton, live at the Boulton Arms in Small Heath, on the very night the rest of the world was watching U2 fanning their fame with famine on Live Aid. Amazing to think that with a slight kink in music history, it could have been Trevor and the rest of The Move on that Wembley stage.

It was nice to see Brian Travers honoured with the Brum Bastion award, although his recent health problems prevented him from appearing in person. Happily, I hear he is well on the road to recovery.

Several awards had a nice personal resonance for me; I first saw best Rap/Grime act Lady Leshurr performing as part of a trio with my daughter at a school concert; best male DapzontheMap is a close family friend; my favourite club the Night Owl won Best Club Night for Le Freak; Call Me Unique and Lady Sanity (along with Namiwa Jazz and AffieJam) are my reason and inspiration for writing about music; and my son’s mate Mayday won a great package of career help from main sponsors CD Baby after being voted Rising Star.

The evening was rounded off in style with two songs from the kings of Brum JAWS, who won best band for the second year running. It was a great night out, but more than that, it was a platform for local talent, a celebration of our culture and diversity, rare recognition for those behind the scenes, a great idea by the Birmingham Film Festival’s Dean Williams, and brilliantly realised by Jo Jeffries and Simon Pitt.

750 people in attendance, all those live performances, 36 categories of award, a presenter or two for each one, a winner or a band or an entourage or a choir for each one… it must have been a logistical nightmare, and yet it was all carried off with barely a hitch. As proceedings came to an end I was a bit gutted that our childcare didn’t stretch to the after-party at Mama Roux’s, but I’ll just have to make do with the free monthly events the BMAs put on throughout the year. The tickets weren’t cheap, but they were the best value for money I’ve had in many a year. Roll on 2020.