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News that Black Sabbath, the Brummie heavy metal legends, are reuniting to release the first album with their original line-up for 33 years, as well as touring the world in 2012, has aroused great interest at the offices of Notebook’s Rebalancing Watch.
Not that we are a bunch of metalheads (more like gentle folkies). What we are wondering is: is this a straw in the wind signalling industry’s revival or a final, steam hammer-driven nail in its coffin?
Heavy metal’s rise has largely paralleled manufacturing’s decline. When Sabbath was formed by singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward in 1968 under the original name of Earth – quickly dropped – the fires of metal foundries were still lighting the Black Country skyline and 50,000 were employed making cars at Longbridge.
Since then, UK manufacturing has shrunk from 30 per cent of the economy to less than 12 per cent. Numbers employed have come down from 6.6m in 1978 to 2.5m today. The West Midlands, home of metal-bashing, was the only English region to have produced no growth in private sector jobs over the past decade.
As industry shrank, the region produced bands such as Judas Priest, Napalm Death, Godflesh and Diamond Head. Heavy metal went global in the 1980s and 1990s, though it was a peculiarly English contribution to the world – a kind of cross between JRR Tolkien and Hammer Horror, easily satirised in the 1984 film This Spinal Tap.
Midlands musicians fashioned industry’s noise, dust and heat into aggressive riffs. Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand in a sheet-metal accident at 17, but relearned the guitar using metal thimbles, thus creating strange, metallic sounds. Yet Brummies have rarely boasted of their music, unlike chirpy Scousers and cocky Mancunians – a result of Birmingham’s modesty as well as wariness of mainstream indifference to the subculture.
That is changing. Home of Metal, a series of exhibitions and events in the region, has been held over the past few months. An international conference on heavy metal has just taken place at the University of Wolverhampton. It discussed academic studies from the use of “grotesque realism in grindcore politics” to the role of women in “death metal”.
All this comes amid society’s yearning to return to its industrial roots in what George Osborne calls a “march of the makers”. Yet manufacturing’s recovery is stalling amid turmoil in European markets. With the desired rebalancing so hard to achieve, heavy metal looks a more assured export.
Marx and the FT
Reading the Financial Times is being still cited as a litmus test of faith in the market economy, even in these troubled times – or so it appears in a mini-controversy surrounding Edwina Hart, Labour business and enterprise minister in the Welsh government. As the minister in charge of boosting the private sector, she has been criticised for saying she “regrets” capitalism.
In response to a Plaid Cymru motion saying it “regrets” Labour’s “failure” to respond to the economic crisis, Mrs Hart told the assembly: “Can I say that I was disappointed when I read the motion, but in view of the fact that it said ‘regret’ perhaps I should say ‘regret’ because in life we all regret many things. I regret about the capitalist system, if you want to go to history lessons perhaps I need to go back to Karl Marx and Engels and we could have a discussion about those issues.”
In May, BBC Wales disclosed that Ms Hart, a former union official, took a taxpayer-funded subscription to the leftwing newspaper the Morning Star. A spokesman said she read the paper in conjunction with the FT “in order to get a balanced view on the issues of the day”.
Eluned Parrott, Liberal Democrat business spokeswoman, said last week: “Clearly, she has been reading too much of the Morning Star and not enough of the Financial Times.”
Without getting involved in the politics, we concur that you can never read enough of the FT.
Notebook owes to folk singer John Tams this Derbyshire version of the title of Lionel Ritchie’s hit: “Eh oop, is it me tha’s lookin’ fer?”