An afternoon with Robert Horrocks – Crossroads of Sabbath, The Queen is Alive, and the opening of the Holy Relic.

The big news here is that Robert Horrocks will be presenting his Crossroads of Sabbath walks this year, from April to November. Full dates and booking information can be found here. This blog also will give details of his next performance at the Sunday Xpress on April 23rd which will be a historical re-creation of an event he played at the Ivy Bush on Hagley Road in 1992, and will include collaboration with me before and after the event, entitled “The Queen is Alive.” Finally, the blog will also feature a recalling of our visit to The Black Eagle in Handsworth, where will be able to open The Holy Relic, a key artefact in the presenting of the story of the Crossroads of Sabbath.

I started off the day a tad hungover after my co-headlining performance at Stirchley Speaks with ace poet Jack Arkell. No matter, as I was going to have an adventurous arts day out, culminating with a screening of Mulholland Drive at the Everyman Cinema. To get myself into the mode I’d have a bit of side 4 of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. I say side 4, but Spotify registers a track forming a bridge between “The Red Weed (part 2)” and “Brave New World” entitled “The Artilleryman Returns.”

In this section, The Journalist (as played by Richard Burton) considers the plight of the Earth under the Martians.  In my slightly skewed state, the music and words that have influenced and had tremendous impact on me since childhood, sounded ever-more relevant in todays confused world of fake news and potential apocalyptic fall-out. But I revelled in the superior writing and production, and was able to make a good dent in my chores before I made my way over to North Birmingham.

Again, I was on my way to London, through towns and villages that were blackened ruins, totally silent, desolated, deserted. Man’s empire had passed away, taken swiftly and without error by these creatures who were composed entirely of brain.

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Arriving at Robert’s and having a cup of decaffeinated Earl Grey, he advised me that he had decided to resurrect his Crossroads of Sabbath tours for 2017. Running from April until November, the tour will take the sightseer around historic landmarks of important significance in Black Sabbath lore. As detailed in this previous article, these will include:

    The Iron Gates (The entrance to the Ellison Industries Estate that Ozzy Osbourne and … would remember on their walks to school)

    Sabbey Road (An invation to cross the road in a more metal fashion than the location of that Beatles photoshoot)

Escuela de GZR – (School of Geezer Butler, the bard of metal, its architecture an inspiration to him as well as the horror and sci-fi literature he was reading at the time.)

    1968 – (The location where where band meetings and rehearsals were held)

The first of these events will happen on April 22, with additional walks happening throughout the year. Please visit the website for more details, and see the rock archaeologist in action.

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Take a look around you. At the world, we used to know…

Of course, Robert has been a mainstay of the revitalised and reinvigorated Sunday Xpress since it’s re-re-launch at Friction Arts and this year, Centrala. He has used the open mic sessions which feature at the start of every event to try out experiments for his presentations and exhibitions, which have included historic re-creations of gigs he has been a part of, music quizzes drenched in feedback, and regular instances of what he refers to as “British Tribal Music”.

His new appearance on the 23rd April at the Xpress will b  a historical re-creation of an event he played at the Ivy Bush on Hagley Road in 1992. The performance will be book-ended with collaboration with yours truly before and after the event, entitled The Queen is Alive.

Of course, this event is following on very nicely from Robert’s last events at March’s Sunday Xpress – A Field in Hampshire, and prior to that in February, his playing of a song that he says was written on a Rickenbacker semi-acoustic copy that Robert bought from a shop, which he was later told, and he has no reason to argue, had been owned by Alan McGee, head of Creation Records.

Creation Records, despite having a roster of bands that most labels would have sold their soul for, were floundering in 1994 until the discovery of Oasis. Oasis were later to become the biggest band in the UK in 1996, and were no doubt instrumental in winning Tony Blair, always ready himself to seem at one with the kids riding the wave of the fashions of the day, onto winning the 1997 election, an event that would go on to shape world history in a most uncomfortable way.

And of course, in August of that 1997, another event occurred that shaped particularly England’s make-up in a most uncomfortable way after the summers of Knebworth and Cool Britannia, with the untimely death of Princess Diana in a car crash. The impact of this event was such that media reporting of her death was influenced primarily by photographers and internet news outlets (Twitter was a long, long way away), and, after what seemed to a total media blackout for three days, a mass outpouring of grief occurred.

While that voice sounded, London had still seemed alive. Now, suddenly, there was a change, the passing of something and all that remained was this gaunt quiet.

What was interesting this year, twenty years later in 2017, was that there were several inferences on social that The Queen had passed away after a long and protracted illness over the New Year. I found an article on the Guardian website on their terrific “long reads” section, which detailed explicitly the rituals and events that would occur when our monarch passes away. I was intrigued by this. Why were we being primed for this now?

Was the Guardian article a pre-figure of the triggering of Article 50, at a time when UK identity as we’ve known it since The Queen’s ascent to the throne is evolving and casting off the skin of its past, heading and hurtling into the unknown? Is this to prepare ourselves for further self-determination, either wanted or not? Whatever, there are turbulent times ahead.

Of course, in today’s world, one has to be weary of biased reportage and hidden agendas be it from the left or the right, known commonly as fake news. As citizens caught in the quagmire of posturing politics, we can infer fakery even when it may not be there, the truth becoming ever more impossible to figure out. For example, with recent hostile attacks in Sweden were seemed to be inferred the President of the United States only a few weeks ago before the event happened. Events I recall such as the deaths of prominent figures such as Bin Laden and the so-called “Jihadi John” happened once, and then again, and are recalled at seemingly random but seemingly intentional intervals in the media landscape.  The “did she/didn’t she” of Saturday’s news in Birmingham. About another ten or so examples in this month alone in the consistent distracting white noise of information, giving, for whatever reason, a sense of international, collective misappropriation, international, collective disharmony, and international, collective déjà vu.

The Queen is Alive will examine this, the reading set to a recording of British Tribal Music should be seen as a call to arms to prepare for the hurtling into the unknown, and especially in Robert’s choice of cover that will feature at the end of the set…

The torment was ended. The people scattered over the country, desperate, leaderless, starved…… The thousands who had fled by sea  – all would return. The pulse of life, growing stronger and stronger, would beat again.

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And furthermore to this journey to Robert’s, I have seen the Heavy Relic. Indeed, we decided that we would make the journey through Handsworth to go and open it in the pub garden of The Black Eagle. Why the Black Eagle? It does excellent fish and chips, and keeps good beer, Robert replied.

We made our way through stunning houses through the back streets of Handsworth, most of them multi-occupation, and certainly a few of them made into places of worship. Incense and aromas in the living room with curtains shut. All these for a fraction of the price that you would expect to pay for big expansive buildings coated in history and mystery in areas such as Moseley and Balsall Heath. These houses, said Robert, are the real deal. We only have excerpts of what went on (and still goes on) behind those bricks and mortar, and through beautiful houses in Handsworth, mostly either converted into places of worship or multi-tenancy occupations. Worship that founded Birmingham during Mondays nearest the Full Moon between 1765 and 1813 in Soho House.

I’m a real stranger to these parts, and it’s good to have my eyes opened to new and foreign parts. We got some cash out in the cosmos of Lozells and then turned around again in search of The Black Eagle. From dusty hot streets and shops with tales to tell when arrived on a downhill slope past a noisy school, the wind rustling rapidly in the trees. This gave way to an uphill slope, where we would be able to see the tram stop on Soho Benson Road, with the Black Eagle on the right.

The Black Eagle is located on Factory Road – Ben Waddington, of Still Walking fame states that incredibly, given Birmingham’s heritage, that this is the only Factory Road in the city. I’d never been into the Black Eagle before. The current owner, Tony Lewis – is approaching the end of his long-run of the pub (since 1990), but Robert has heard that hopefully the pub will be in good hands after his departure.

We ordered food at the bar, I opted for a cheese and onion baguette, a bag of Rayman’s Pork Scratchings and a pint of Holden’s Golden Ale (4.1%). Simplicity, of course, the key for pub grub in my book. The pub certainly had no hint of the gastro about it at all, in fact, the pub is a pickled and preserved, but beautiful and clean, example of a late Victorian public house. The only hint of modernity are flat screen televisions on the wall, but these were off, and even enhanced the light off the chandeliers positioned in the centre of the room.

We then went outside to the beer garden, a beautifully kept and breath-taking space. Cobbles led us to our pub tables, and when the food came, we both raised a toast to afternoon drinking.

Beautiful sculpture and design were all around. And this idyll, with the wind rustling through the trees and the birds singing, was of course offset by the clang from the factories and constant noise of operating machinery.

And then of course, this was the perfect time to open the Holy Relic. Obviously I’m not going to divulge what is in the box, but you will have the chance to see it on one of Robert’s tours this year, and perhaps also catch him, and me, at this months Sunday Xpress on the 23rd of April. Which is also St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday. And a Blues/Villa derby, but don’t let that put you off going like.

 

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