As Broad Street gets spruced up ready for its reopening after lockdown, Westside business leader MIKE OLLEY recalls how one of the district’s most iconic attractions was born.
One of the great joys of my job it that often it doesn’t feel like a job at all. I work in the centre of a fun place and what a privilege that is. There are numerous serious distractions to also keep me happily employed, but most of the time it’s fun, fun, fun …
Yet even fun is a serious business. I recall one Friday afternoon, in the office, too long ago to remember exactly when, when I felt we needed a creative new aspect to Broad Street. My original boss Gary Taylor, also renowned for the massive achievement of building Brindleyplace, always used to comment that we had no benches on Broad Street.
For some reason I made a bench out of the cover of one of our prospectuses. This was essentially thick black card. It was a rubbish bench, of course, far below the Blue Peter expectation of craft hobby work. But I persisted and, flicking thorough the coverless prospectus, I cut out a head and shoulders picture of Tony Iommi, the musical genius, founder member and lead guitarist with Black Sabbath. I stuck him on the bench.
That really was the first Black Sabbath bench. Within an hour the bench had a new set of heads and shoulder cut outs. Funnily enough, none of the head and shoulder images happened to be Black Sabbath band members. I just couldn’t find four images of similar scale in time. It didn’t matter, I can tell you I was getting excited about the conceptual art I was creating.
I recall showing my Black Sabbath bench to numerous people. I was very proud of it. Upon reflection, they treated me like a cat gets treated when it drops a dead bird on the back door step. A mixture of “what on earth” to a very insincere “oh, well done”.
Nevertheless the Black Sabbath bench was born. To get some substance around the design, I contacted a pal of mine who lives in Dubai, an architect and super fellow named Mohammed Osama. He is the sort of architect who designs 100-storey towers. Fortunately for us all, he is also a Black Sabbath super fan.
He took hold of my pathetic design prototype and shaped it into what it is today. The head images are now actually Black Sabbath band members. Mohammed commissioned an international artist from Cairo to design those, that’s another great guy called Tarek Abdelkawi. These were then applied in steel by Etch Components from Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, with the final manufacture by Gateway Steel Fabricators, based in Tyseley, Birmingham.
I am immensely proud of the resulting Black Sabbath ‘heavy metal’ bench. It draws in literally tens of thousands of appreciative fans and others to Birmingham, each and every year. When rock bands play the Utilita Indoor Arena, their fans flock to the Sabbath bench to pay homage.
The other day I was speaking to some elderly chap, maybe early to mid seventies. I spotted him placing bottles of beer on the bench and taking photos of the beer with the bench. I pleasantly asked him what he was doing and he told me: “Having a drink with the Sabbath lads”. How wonderful.
We often meet people who have travelled to Birmingham just to come to see the Sabbath bench, and they originate from all over the world. I particularly delight in spotting Asian families clad in
traditional Asian dress photographing themselves on the bench. They often don’t know who Black Sabbath are, they just see the bench as a crazy but interesting work of art.
Black Sabbath is a comprehensively Birmingham band who draw fans from every corner of the globe. Their bench was created in Birmingham and built in Birmingham. Designed in Dubai with artistic influence from Egypt, it is appreciated the world over. Appreciated and loved by so many, a solid tribute to our City and to four great sons, Geezer, Ozzie, Tony and Bill.
The short story: I’m delighted I wasted that Friday afternoon and a perfectly good prospectus all those years ago …