Artist turned promoter warns of live music decline

“We must value our grassroots music in Birmingham – before it declines further.”

A musician-promoter who has presented shows for thousands of music fans in Birmingham over the last six years has cautioned that live music in the city will continue to decline without more support from the public.

Now preparing for a rare headline show of his own – at Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds on Wednesday 12th April – Neighbourhd founder Michael Bird is concerned that without the right infrastructure or backing of music fans, the next generation of promoters and musicians could choose to relocate to other UK locations which enjoy a more vibrant live music landscape – especially following COVID, cost of living and energy crises.

Bird has drawn together a band featuring some of the best musicians from across the city for a one-off concert at the Kings Heath venue, including Kioko lead guitarist Jonathan Browne, Charlotte Church keys player Robbie Moore, Gorillabot drummer Jack Walker and session bassist Jamahl Augustine, has run his own events at Digbeth venue The Night Owl since 2016.

The vocalist, guitarist and keys player said: “For years, I and other creatives have invested a lot into Birmingham’s grassroots music community. Founding Neighbourhd as a place that grows larger with the generosity of its individual has felt like planting a fruit tree that everyone waters and everyone picks from.

“Despite Covid and the cost-of-living crisis, it’s a space where we’ll always aim to grow with our skills and build as a family.

“Birmingham has a knack for producing stars and incredibly innovative artists, despite a significant lack of industry infrastructure. After all this is the city that has given us Back Sabbath, Joan Armatrading, Laura Mvula, Jorja Smith, Lady Leshurr and Soweto Kinch after all. But those of us working in live music have seen venues and gig-goers drop in number over the past few years.

“But I’ve also come to accept that without sustainable career opportunities, musicians, promoters and other industry professionals will move on in search of better cohesion and opportunity be it in London, Manchester, Brighton, Leeds or Bristol. Many of my friends have and I don’t blame them. They need to do what is best for their career.”

Neighbourhd founder Bird, who moved from life on a sheep farm in rural Kent to eventually playing a role on the front line of live music in busy Birmingham, has built up a family of creatives around the monthly jam night – relying on his own initiative and the generosity of everyone involved. The event and community grew for four years solely on donations, is now supported by the Night Owl and the next step for the team is to secure funding to help develop this growing scene further.

The Leeds Conservatoire-educated guitarist, pianist, and vocalist – who released his own EP Bloom in Summer 2022 – will host his 50th Neighbourhd show in Digbeth in April 2023.

With a house band of creative music professionals playing and recording across Birmingham’s jazz, hip hop, soul, electronic, classical and funk genres, Neighbourhd has opened its doors and offered a platform to hundreds of instrumentalists and vocalists of many different ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

“There’s a history and ongoing movement of Birmingham artists choosing to go DIY and produce their own events,” Bird goes on to say, “From Soweto Kinch (Flyover) and Juice Aleem (Afroflux), to Madi Saskia (Lean Up) and Faye Smith (Shanty Town).”

“There are award-winning artists like BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year Xhosa Cole running their own nights, and musicians made of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire graduates programming and presenting their own nights eg Jazz at The Spotted Dog or Jazz at The Ruin, as well as producers such as Tom Hayes running nights like Ghost Snares and Listening Sessions.

“We’ve had touring bands from overseas stumble into our jam nights after their shows and their experience of the city far exceeds their expectations,” Bird said.

“We had an upcoming band called Ruby Sky drive all the way from Denmark, lugging all their amps and a whole Hammond organ to play at Neighbourhd and Sofar Birmingham over two nights. They said it’s the best live experience they’ve ever had, proving that Brummie crowds have it in them to collectively create some truly magical moments.

“That said, this audience is small and lacks buying power so that local artists can actually move on to the next level in their careers. My hope is that more people join the family of creatives and music lovers that want to innovate and share beautiful experiences together in the city.”

Bird has been building a team over the years at Neighbourhd and he will be formally announcing his departure from leading the event at the upcoming show. He plans to step down when Neighbourhd celebrates its seventh birthday in November.

Hotly-tipped Black Country singer-songwriter talent Eddy Luna will join Michael Bird’s Hare & Hounds show for a stripped-back set, matching raw, introspective lyrics with neo-soul and jazz-heavy production.

Michael Bird plus Eddy Luna play the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on Wednesday 12th April. Tickets.

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