This book just fell into Novellas in November at 189 pages of text (it’s a B size paperback, so quite a lot of text) and it just fell into my TBR Challenge as it arrived on the same day as the Dave Grohl book that started off the challenge. It’s one of the books I’ve subscribed to via Unbound – always exciting, as you never quite know when the book is going to come to fruition – though this time officially published by The History Press.

Stephen Pennell – “King City: Adventures into Birmingham’s Diverse Music Scene”

(05 October 2021 – Unbound) I couldn’t resist a book about my home city and music, even if my gig-going has dried up a bit recently and seems to be composed solely of seeing Attila the Stockbroker, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and members of The Mens’ side-projects. I was hoping this would give me some impetus to try some new local bands once the pandemic is properly over, and I did indeed get some ideas.

Pennell has written these pieces for local newspapers and music sites/papers, and they’re all competently done and well-written. He does revisit the same performers and bands quite a few times, all locals such as Lady Sanity and The Clause, with regular trips to see Paul Weller (he’s a mod, though he’s wider in his music tastes than that would suggest), but it’s fresh and enthusiastic writing and, being in a smallish scene, he knows the musicians and gets access to do interviews with them, too. There’s amusement, too, with his regular sideways glancing descriptions of the area of the city he comes from (there’s also an unreconstructed element to him: this is a working man who’s steeped in the working class of the city: he calls his wife “Wifey” and he has to Google neurodiversity, but he doesn’t display any prejudice and is happy with all slices of the city’s population so that’s a very minor point.

Of course, being Birmingham, everything’s down to earth, from Tommy Iommi’s solution to cutting off the tips of his fingers just before going full-time with Black Sabbath in the introduction that runs through Birmingham’s musical history, to the performers who happily hang around after their gigs to chat to fans. I also loved how Pennell displayed the Brummie trait of comparing everywhere else we go to our home city (I was caught telling my husband how like Birmingham Monpellier was once, fairly spuriously), so he’s not impressed by a bicycle taxi driver’s stats on Hyde Park, knowing we have the largest urban park in Europe (Sutton Park, where I recently almost broke my hand during a race), and managing to extend this to New York.

Most of the pieces were written before the pandemic but it does intervene near the end, shutting down gigs, then making gigs weird when they do come back, and almost felling one of the major figures in the Birmingham music scene. Perhaps one to dip into rather than read cover to cover in one go (my fault) and a good snapshot of venues and performers, with some nostalgia for older, lost venues, too. I’m not sure how much anyone outside Birmingham will get out of it, though decent music writing is decent music writing wherever it’s based, but there’s a good slice of backers in the list at the end, and there are over a million of us here, so I hope it does well.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 16/85 – 69 to go – it’s a Novella in November (number 9) and it’s one of my Nonfiction November reads.