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Heavy Metal – you heard it first in Birmingham

Jonathan Wilkins


January 7, 2021
When you think of Heavy Metal, one band springs to mind immediately – Black Sabbath. Fronted by the infamous Ozzy Osbourne, notorious for biting the head off a bat live on stage back in the 1970’s, Black Sabbath pioneered the heavy metal sound, right here in Birmingham. 50 years later, they’ve sold more than 75 million albums worldwide, been ranked by MTV as the ‘Greatest Metal Band of all time’ and listed by Rolling Stone Magazine in their ‘100 greatest artists of all time’. In 2019 Black Sabbath received a Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Grammys.

Who are Black Sabbath?

Black Sabbath are four ‘ordinary blokes’ from Aston, Birmingham: guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist John ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne.

Where did it all begin?

In 1968 the lads were struggling to come to terms with the idea of a working life spent in a Birmingham factory and dreamt of escaping that potential drudgery through music.

Guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward wanted to form a heavy blues rock band. They recruited bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist John Michael 'Ozzy' Osbourne, who had played together in a band called Rare Breed. Osbourne got the gig after having placed an advertisement in a local music shop "OZZY ZIG Needs Gig – has own PA". Interestingly, Tony Iommi, who knew and disliked Ozzy from school, was initially opposed to his inclusion but soon got over it. The new group was initially called the Polka Tulk Blues Band, the name apparently taken from a brand of talcum powder. Not the most dangerous sounding band name it is fair to say.

Influenced by the British blues scene at the time including the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Jimmy Hendrix Experience and Cream, they morphed from the Polka Tulk Blues Band to the Earth Blues Company but they didn’t get very far as that ensemble either and after a couple of gigs Earth (they had decided the original name too long), were no more. So where would they go from here?

What is this that stands before me?

Everything changed one day when Geezer Butler, who had recently developed a keen interest in the dark arts having become a big fan of horror films, came to the group with an idea for a song. Inspired by a disturbing apparition he had experienced one night when he was visited by what he believed to be a comrade of Satan, a song was born. Ozzy wrote some lyrics about his friends experience and the band put together the music and decided on the title ‘Black Sabbath’, taken from a 1970’s Boris Karloff horror movie.

The first time they played their new song at a club in Lichfield, The Pokey Hole Blues Club, the crowds wild reaction to their new song  was like nothing they had experienced before and they quickly realised they were onto something with their powerful riff-driven, extreme volume, dark, heavy sound. The band were convinced that this heavier, darker style of rock music was their way forward and adopted the song title as their new name. Black Sabbath had arrived.

From left to right: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, John 'Ozzy' Osbourne

The 1970’s and beyond

With Iommi on guitar, Butler on bass, Ward on drums and Ozzy on lead vocals, Black Sabbath started to gain notoriety and quickly developed into one of the 1970’s most recognisable rock bands, albeit from a very different perspective. They didn’t write and perform songs about love and peace which was the contemporary style but rather wrote lyrics and made music which reflected the social issues they faced at that time. The Vietnam War was raging and nuclear holocaust was a constant threat so it was this backdrop that helped shape their music.

Ozzy didn’t make it to the end of the 70’s with the band. It had been a tumultuous time. He was twice kicked out for bad behaviour but eventually picked himself up with the help of his new manager Sharon Arden (who became his wife) and went on to have a successful solo career, releasing 12 studio albums, the first seven of which went multi-platinum in the US. In 2001, MTV commissioned a show called At home with the Osbournes, with cameras following the ups and downs in the daily lives of the Osbourne family. The show became a hit and Ozzy Osbourne is now a household name across the globe.

Black Sabbath have regrouped on a few occasions. Ozzy rejoined the band in 1997 and helped record the group’s final studio album, 13, in 2013 and most notably when they brought their legendary career to a close in 2017 with a string of UK shows ending in their beloved hometown of Birmingham, England.

Heavy Metal – you heard it first right here in Birmingham.

Jonathan Wilkins

Founder and Managing Director of Warm Welcome Homestays - Birmingham born and bred, English Language Teacher and long track-record of working with students, homestay hosts and language schools in the UK and overseas, including living and working in Asia for a number of years.

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