12 May 2016

Is There Anyone Out There? Documenting Birmingham’s Alternative Music Scene 1986 – 1990

Guest post by Jez Collins, Researcher music history, heritage and archives Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research and Birmingham Music Archive


Through my work as the founder of the Birmingham Music Archive, I’ve collaborated with colleagues from the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Archive to co-curate an exhibition, hosted at BCU, about an alternative music venue and disco called The Click Club.

The name of the exhibition is Is There Anyone Out There? Documenting Birmingham’s Alternative Music Scene 1986-1990

For this blog post though I thought I would give some context about what we are trying to achieve by having this exhibition and how we might think about it in terms of impact for BCMCR and the Birmingham Music Archive.

To start with the BMA, the impact I’d like to see is relatively straightforward. Through the lifecycle of the exhibition, and beyond, I’d like to see an increase in people engaging with the BMA. Either by posting comments and materials to the site, or asking me to create new entries for people, places and spaces that are missing, offering new insights and new stories about Birmingham’s music heritage. I’d like to create new partnerships and new collaborations, and encourage more people to take an active part in running and sustaining the BMA.

For BCMCR, we need to draw out impact in more meaningful ways, encouraging visitors to engage with the exhibition on a different level.

Sugarcubes (with Bjork) © Dave Travis
To achieve this, we have a number of students working on the project and in particular, on the night of the launch event, when we expect to host the most visitors at any one time. We are challenging our students to think critically about the event so when they speak to visitors and receive feedback they can engage and extend the discussion to elicit more detailed feedback that we can then use for a range of activities (impact assessment being merely one).

And so, part of our brief to student reads thus:

When we talk about impact we mean how the exhibition relates to the ways in which our approach to research, its insights and practice transforms people’s lives.
The nature of this transformation is what we are seeking to track in capturing:
  • how did they know about it? (through which channels, online vs. offline etc.)?  
  • reach of the current exhibition (who got to know about it and Target beneficiaries: direct vs. indirect); 
  • engagement (who came, or read the materials produced for the exhibition?);  
  • impact (what changed for individuals as a result of engaging with the exhibition? How has this change been expressed and how is it manifested?).
While there are those who will be interested in the exhibition that were original participants in the scene it captures, the audience we seek to reach can be defined as widely as possible, encompassing all demographics. Those who will be particularly important however can be identified as those whose interests and activities are far removed from the generic qualities of the exhibition material.

Working with colleagues in BCMCR’s Monitoring and Evaluation Lab we will be following up on engagement with the exhibition, in the physical space itself but also across a wide range of social media and online platforms and of course in the press. Our M&E colleagues are really questioning us about the impact, about how we evidence it and what we might do with it. It’s very early in the life of the exhibition, but first indications are that we are beginning to already receive some detailed responses from visitors.

Mapping Birmingham Music

If you are in Birmingham during May please do pop in and take a look (and leave feedback, you may even when a print of your choice from the exhibition). The Parkside Gallery is open Monday –Saturday 7.30am – 7pm.

'Is There Anyone Out There?'
Documenting Birmingham’s Alternative Music Scene 1986-1990
4-28th May 2016
Parkside Building, Birmingham City University, Curzon Street, Birmingham, B4 7BD

Alan Vega – Suicide at The Click Club © Dave Travis

Established in 1986 by Dave Travis and Steve Coxon, The Click Club was the name of a concert venue and disco associated with Birmingham’s alternative music culture.

Located in ‘Burberries’ - a conventional nightclub site in the pre-regeneration city centre, the club showcased a wide variety of acts reflecting the varied culture of the independent and alternative sector.

While capacity was limited to a few hundred attendees on any one night, The Click Club was important locally, nationally and internationally, for the role it played as part of a touring circuit, and for distributors and retailers of independent music. As a central feature in a music scene operating on a DIY-basis, independent of major labels, at the intersection of subcultures it also had enormous cultural value for its participants.

Travis continues to be a key cultural entrepreneur. Known initially as a professional photographer, commissioned by music publications such as /NME/, /Sounds/ and the local /Brumbeat/ amongst others, he has combined his photographic work with the promotion of live music in the city.

This exhibition draws upon Travis’ personal archive of film, posters, magazines and ephemera that detail a vibrant and dynamic space and time in late 80s Birmingham.

Central to the exhibition is a set of previously unseen images taken by Travis at The Click Club, a small proportion of those produced during a professional life as a music promoter and photographer.

The exhibition draws upon first hand accounts of those who were there and includes loaned artefacts in order to contextualize The Click Club in a historical moment that remains important to its community and to the music and cultural heritage of Birmingham.

The exhibition poses a series of questions: what is the value of this material? What does it tell us beyond confirming the memories of the individuals it concerned? Does such material have wider importance and contributions to make to our understanding of the past?

While the exhibition will appeal to those who attended The Click Club as well as those curious about popular music more generally, it is aimed at a broader audience interested in history, urban life, everyday creativity and the cultural economy.

Moshing at The Stupids gig © Dave Travis

Conceived and curated by scholars from the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research Paul Long, Jez Collins (founder of Birmingham Music Archive), and Sarah Raine, the exhibition//develops themes from BCMCR research clusters in Popular Music Studies and History, Heritage and Archives.

Previous work includes: UK Film Council funded production of: the film ‘Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra’ establishment of a project to develop the archival preservation of the production culture of Pebble Mill research into the archive of BBC documentarist Philip Donnellan; collaborations with Vivid Projects on the history of The Birmingham Film and Television Workshop and Catapult Club Archive

You are welcome to join us over the duration of the exhibition and we would be pleased to welcome you and discuss the project.

For more information and exhibition materials contact us directly.

Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research:

Birmingham Music Archive:


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