Birmingham Music Archive – Celebrating Birmingham’s Popular Music History

General information

Domain: Historical places and buildings (popular music locations and memories)
Title: Birmingham Music Archive
Launch: 2009
Country: United Kingdom

Project focus

Popular music heritage is communicated online in either official or unofficial narratives. Publicly funded heritage archives and websites tend to mirror traditional history-making, whereas unofficial websites emphasise personal memories and the social role the music played in the communities of towns and regions. The latter are participatory sites created, populated and curated by individuals and social groups. The Birmingham Music Archive is an example of an unofficial website. It reconstructs and celebrates the popular music history of the city bottom up – through contributions by its users.


Jez Collins, founder of the archive, cultural entrepreneur, and researcher in the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research, Birmingham City University,
The contributors and users of the archive


The Birmingham Music Archive essentially is a cooperation between the contributors and Jez Collins as the publisher of the archive website. Furthermore the support by the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research merits to be mentioned.

Financing / funding

Initial funding came from a project grant of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council to the Birmingham City University. Among several project activities, this allowed the University to host Jez Collins from late 2008 in the School of Media to develop a prototype website of the Birmingham Music Archive. In addition, Collins could secure a small grant by the Arts Council to establish and grow the archive. A Heritage Lottery Fund bid of the University and Birmingham Central Library managed by Collins in 2009 failed, because the innovative approach did not meet the funding criteria. (cf. Collins 2009) Currently, the archive website is maintained and updated by Collins as a private investment of time and labour.
The archive project has also been extended into producing the one hour documentary “Made in Birmingham - Punk, Reggae and Bhangra” (2010; executive co-produced by Jez Collins), and helping to recover and release lost music (e.g. the album “Inner Reggae Rhythm” by Eclipse).

Content & IPR / licensing

There are no criteria set as to what should or should not be included in the archive. But the website makes clear that it centres on the history of popular music activity “in and from the city”. The archive categories include bands / musicians, venues, managers, DJs / club nights / promoters, recording studios, radio stations, record labels and shops, press / fanzines, fashion / shops and exhibitions. These sections provide lists, e.g. all known venues, inviting users to post information and comments. Contributors can also send content to the editor to make it available on the website. The content is provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Technologies used / innovative features

The Birmingham Music Archive is based on a well-designed Weblog with several frames which feature recent news stories, comments, available videos, etc. In addition there is the archive of entries and comments in the categories mentioned above. The most important aspect of the archive indeed is that each category and entry comes with the comment function which can be used without registration.

Target users

The website invites users “Tell us what you know, tell us what you think!” about the musical heritage of Birmingham, thereby encouraging users to help build and shape the archive. The contributors typically are people who know about the city’s former music places, artists, events etc., and recall and share memories, stories and visual material (e.g. scanned photographs, flyers, ticket stubs, etc.). Often the stories refer to places they visited but have been lost because of closure and destruction. Notably, despite the City Council’s attempt to position Birmingham as a “music city” to attract and boost music tourism.
“However the built environment of cultural spaces and places of popular culture and in particular popular music, hold a special place in the lives of so many of us. (…) these spaces are imbued with our histories and memories. But music is not just local but translocal. And so places of popular music history are important as authentic sites of music activity for people scattered across the globe.” (Collins 2013)

Lessons learned

Collaboration: The collaboration is essentially between contributors of personal memories (but also factual information) and a trusted non-commercial publisher, who has established the website against all odds.

Content: Besides the individual aspects the narratives highlight the social role the music, places and events played (and still play) in the local community. This is not about history-making for tourism purposes. But to preserve, and possibly re-activate, former music venues might well be in the interest of towns with a remarkable history of popular music.

Technology: The case exemplifies that a well-designed weblog can be just the right tool for a community website. The approach is “low tech, high touch”, what counts are the personal recollections of the contributors. That a comment function can be added to each entry is an extremely valuable feature of weblogs.

Sources and links