“It was phenomenal. So much more than we expected. Kokonaivalainen – we can’t think of an equivalent English word.” Sami & Hanna, Helsinki, Finland.
“Near the end of the walk, looking at the crossroads, all the pieces blend together, making Crossroads of Sabbath much more than just a music walk but an investigation of the way of live in early post-industrial working class areas.” – Theo Ploeg, Lecturer in media sociology at the University of Applied Science, Amsterdam.
“There are some solid gold moments from the early Sabbath days on the tour. Thorough, engaging and 111% rock ‘n’ roll!” – Ben Waddington, Still Walking Festival
“A transformative walkthrough that hangs interesting histories off overlooked details. I found the tour accessible and engaging; as much about growing up in North Birmingham and starting a band as the Sabbath legend. The bits I really connected to were the moments when we were asked to relate to our own experiences of growing up.” – I’mnotahuge Sabbathfan, 26
“It gives an idea of their backgrounds and opens up the imagination to the kind of lives they may have led.” – Amelia Grassi
“But far from being a mere photo opportunity to pose, sign of the horns aloft, in front of Ozzy’s house (although this is granted), it’s an experience that goes beyond any filmed documentary, biographical book or Google map. It leaves its pedestrians with a real, multi-sensory, psychogeographical set of impressions of both what it was like to grow up in the rapidly changing urban environment and how this may have influenced the four Sabbath members to hone their art,…” Russ Cuzner, Musique Machine blog
“The perfect combination of history, sociology, psychogepgraphy and music geekery” – Christina McDermott – The Quietus
“a truely worthy pilgrimage.” – the Guardian
“It’s brilliant.” – Footprint Workers Print Co op, Leeds
“It is indeed a thing of beauty.” – Felicity Martin
“This is exactly what fanzines are for. It’s creative, original and slightly obsessive which means it has great uncommercial integrity, it shows you the inside of the writer’s head but also shows you a new way to see the world too. In this case, very literally.” – Footprint Workers Print Co op, Leeds
“An interesting insight into the band members young lives.”
“…magnificent… like my own THE MODERN ANTIQUARIAN, it attempts to show you a good time without annoying the locals. In the introductions, the author argues that his walking tour will still be of interest in 100 years time. I concur sir, and with ruddy well knobs on! Bra-fucking-vo!” – Julian Cope, Head Heritage (yes, I know…)
Not so much a review as an endorsement
At the recent Supersonic Festival in Birmingham the chap on the Drag CIty Records stall brought a copy. 20 minutes later he brought another 5 and later still he purchased a further 5. I gave him a discount!
Famous for two minutes
A short video of the tour from VICE magazine.
The enhanced delux edition from The Quietus
Death To False Transport! True Metal Is For Walkers!
“Follow me now and you will not regret/ Leaving the life you led before we met” Black Sabbath, ‘NIB’
It is a crisp autumn day and I am standing outside a nondescript mid-terrace house in the suburb of Aston in the north of Birmingham. White UPVC door, net curtains in the living room window – its near-duplicate could be found in any city in England. However, this house is special for one particular reason – it was the childhood home of Ozzy Osbourne, frontman of Black Sabbath and probably Birmingham’s most famous musical export (sorry Jamelia). There’s no blue plaque, although there is a Sky dish.
I am participating in a short (90-minute), highly specialist walking tour being held as part of the festival. Crossroads Of Sabbath allows a strictly limited group of participants (two taxis’ worth) to follow in the formative footsteps of Ozzy, Tony and Geezer. According to our guide, Ozzy’s old bedroom is available for rent via AirBnB for the princely sum of £288 per night although, as the house is occupied, you’ll have to sleep in a bunk bed and eat your Weetabix with the current owner’s children the next morning.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of a tour in which you’re marched around famous people’s childhood stamping grounds is a little old hat. After all, any city that can cobble together something describable as musical heritage is doing it nowadays. Manchester has its Oasis
and Hacienda tours and in Liverpool you can pay to be driven around in a rickety coach with “Magical Mystery Tour” painted on its side (the experience is neither magical nor a mystery). Crossroads Of Sabbath is something different – one man’s hand-knitted mix of sociology, anecdotal history and musical geekery – a personal project rather than a tourist cash-in. Certainly, I’ve yet to see another walking tour which comes with its own fanzine. I would describe it as psychogeographic, but the tour’s creator, Rob Horrocks, plays that side down, keen to present himself as a kind of muso historian piecing together rock family trees rather than a cultural studies-type sniffin
g out the elements in Sabbath’s background that shaped their lyrics and riffs. Rob has cross-referenced biographies with calendars and maps in attempt to pin down the locations of various crucial moments in Sabbath’s early history – first meetings, abortive musical projects and the like.
Aston itself is a fairly typical working class area, full of scuffed-looking takeaways, cramped internet cafes and greengrocers heaped high with exotic-looking fruits and herbs. The only thing distinguishing it from somewhere like Govanhill in Glasgow or Levenshulme in Manchester is the towering spectre of the Aston Vill
And, because you’re in Birmingham, the “land of 1,500 trades”, that history is tied up in its industrial heritage. One of the most compelling parts of the tour occurs when we all stand on Witton Road and are asked to imagine the scene as it would have been in 1953, when Ozzy was a short-trousered schoolboy, and the area would have been at the drab, grey zenith of its postwar incarnation. As Rob tells us:
“…the trams had stopped running and the tracks were taken up. Several local residents of the time report that all the way up the road the local children could be seen loading wooden blocks from under the tracks into wheel barrows and discarded prams to take home. With wages from the factories at subsistence level any chance to obtain free fuel was taken.”
Factory life and social life were invariably linked, with workers living within the sound of the hooter, attending social events organised by paternalistic capitalist bosses, their every need catered for within the factory gates. They were “machines operating machines”, the fruits of their labours seeping into the Midlands landscape and influencing everything they touched. The echoes of this Victorian world are still visible in the often derelict locations Rob singles out. We learn about factories that Ozzy, Tony, Geezer’s parents worked in while standing in the car parks that now occupy their sites.
And then there’s the crossroads where the tour ends, which Rob posits as Birmingham’s equivalent of the junction of Route 61 and Route 49 at Clarksville, Mississippi where Robert Johnson is supposed to have sold his soul to the Devil. It’s unlikely anyone sold their soul here, at least not in exchange for musical props. On one corner, there’s the Newtown Community Centre (where the band’s earliest practices took place) and, across the road, a pub called “The Shareholders Arms” (possibly the only pub with that name in the country – a perfect monument to the free market capitalism that both allowed Black Sabbath to become famous and contributed to the later degradation of the area). Rob produces a commemorative one-of-a-kind Crossroads Of Sabbath tea towel, which participants brandish proudly as they get their pictures taken on the crossroads.
Looking up the hill, back towards Aston, Rob invites us to imagine two young men walking back home after a night out in the city centre. One, Tony Iommi, is a “well-turned Blues freak”, the other, Ozzy Osbourne, “a soul boy with cropped hair and improvised attire”. Their paths converge at the crossroads and a musical legend is born.
The tour is designed as a social experience, so it’s natural that we finish up in the pub (not The Shareholders Arms) for a well-earned pint. We’ve just experienced one person’s labour of love and years of research in an hour and a half (and got some fresh air at the same time), so it’s now time to rest our legs, debrief and digest what we’ve just learned. We chat about Ozzy, about Birmingham and myriad other things before we disperse from Sabbath’s crossroads.
Taken from The Quietus review of Supersonic Festival 2012
And a slightly shorter one… Again from The Quietus