During the opening scenes of the classic heavy metal comedy 'This is Spinal Tap', the film’s fictional ‘rockumentarian’ Marty Di Bergi reminisces about seeing the eponymous band perform at an old rock club called The Electric Banana. ‘Don't look for it,’ he says, ‘it's not there anymore.’
Birmingham in the late 1980s and early 1990s had a thriving hard rock and alternative music scene. Sadly, many of the venues from those days have since climbed the stairway to heaven.
Here are just a few of the city's own Electric Bananas:
Edward’s No. 8, Lower Severn Street
Flickr - Pete Ashton
In the Birmingham rock venue deck of cards, Eddie’s remains the undisputed ace of spades. It started out on John Bright Street as Edward’s No. 8, a part of Brum nightclub magnate Eddie Fewtrell’s nocturnal empire (hence the name). Originally it was an early '80s mainstream club, where wannabe Don Johnsons danced in linen suits with rolled-up sleeves.
In 1987, though, it turned to the dark side and became a very successful rock and alternative music venue, attracting coachloads of leather-clad pilgrims from all over the country and hosting gigs from the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine.
Sadly, the original Eddie’s venue was destroyed in 2006 after a toilet in the club caught fire (presumably to the tune of ‘Smoke on the Water’).
Since then, the club’s had a variety of short and long term residencies before settling into its current home at the Tunnel Club on Livery Street.
The Costermonger, Dalton Way
Affectionately known as ‘Costers’ to its hard-rocking clientele, this basement boozer could be found at the back of the Oasis Market and was a traditional pre-Eddie’s base camp.
After tirelessly serving Brum’s rock community for what seemed like centuries, the venue closed in 2009 to make way for a new shopping centre that never happened.
The Barrel Organ, Digbeth High Street
Before it turned into The Dubliner in the mid-1990s, Digbeth’s legendary music venue The Barrel Organ was synonymous with Birmingham’s goth scene. In truth, its clientèle was a veritable smorgasbord of alternative subcultures, including rockers, punks, psychobillies, crusties and even the occasional shoe-gazing indie kid.
There were a lot of goths, though.
The Mercat Cross, Bradford Street
Just around the corner from The Barrel Organ was The Mercat Cross (aka The Mercat) on Bradford Street. It featured regular gigs by rock bands, although its unique selling point was that it provided liquid nourishment to hard-working traders at the adjoining wholesale market. To put it another way, it was the one place in Brum where you could get a pint at 7am. Apparently.
49ers, Smallbrook Queensway
Originally known as The Wandering Minstrel, this rocker-friendly rendezvous was located at the old Bull Ring Shopping Centre, not far from what is now the Debenhams entrance of the ‘new’ Bullring.
Debenhams may be a leading retailer stocking the latest fashions from some of the world’s leading designers, but it could never compete with the vast collection of leather bikers’ jackets at 49ers.
Mr Bill’s Bier Keller, Needless Alley
Originally located in Needless Alley (which, let’s face it, would make a fantastic name for an AC/DC track), Mr Bill’s Bier Keller was a unique ‘worlds collide’ experience, where a predominantly rocker clientele were entertained by Brummies dressed in lederhosen performing comedy Oompah songs.
The Bier Keller eventually moved next door to Goldwyn’s/The Foundry (see below) where it attracted a more mainstream crowd. Mostly because its hard-rocking contingent rarely made it past Edward’s.
Goldwyn’s/The Foundry, Suffolk Place
When Eddie Fewtrell opened Goldwyn’s in the late 1980s, the original plan was to offer an upmarket cabaret experience for a more discerning clientele. Things didn’t go quite according to plan, however, and it was soon hosting gigs by the likes of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. By the early '90s, the venue was rebranded ‘The Foundry’ and embraced the alternative music scene more overtly.
The site that once housed Goldwyn’s, The Foundry and Mr Bill’s Bier Keller (Mark II) has since been converted into offices and a wine bar. As Led Zeppelin might say, it’s been a long time since it rocked and rolled.
XL's, Five Ways Shopping Centre
Eddie Fewtrell sold Edward’s No. 8 and the rest of his Brum nightclub empire in 1989, and the deal contained a ‘golden handcuffs’ clause preventing him from running any other clubs for a three-year period.
In 1992 – exactly three years later – he bought XL’s at Five Ways in Edgbaston and promptly turned it into a rival rocker rendezvous. Sadly, this rock venue has been reduced to rubble – it was recently demolished to make way for the prestigious Park Regis Hotel development, which has no plans to include a heavy metal night.
Xposure Rock Café, Fletchers Walk
Another Fewtrell-owned venue - this time a companion bar to XL's - Xposure could be found in the somewhat ironically-named concrete catacomb, Paradise Circus. After several years of serving snakebite and black to raucous teenage headbangers, Xposure was briefly turned into a lap dancing club called ‘Xposé’ (which presumably saved on the signwriting bill) before reverting back to a rock bar, this time called Subside.
It shared a similar fate to XL’s, closing earlier this year to make way for the £500 million ‘Paradise’ redevelopment. No plans for a rock bar there, either.
Did you attend mosh-pit stops along Brum’s highway to hell? What were your Electric Bananas? Let us know in the comments section below.
In the meantime, check out what's going on in Birmingham's current music and nightlife scene.