It took three men walking in very peculiar fashion to move just the faces on the world famous Black Sabbath Bench, as you can see in our video below.
But that’s because the giant artwork – which was this week temporarily removed for refurbishment – really is made of heavy metal!
The sheer number of diverse, security-enhanced specialist bolts used to keep the entire bench together meant it took longer than expected to free even the faces on their own – and several hours to dismantle the entire sculpture.
The bench was originally unveiled in Gas Street Church in February 2019 before Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler sailed along the Birmingham Main Line Canal on a narrowboat to launch it on Broad Street in late June that year.
On Monday 5 February, almost five years since it was first seen, the bench was taken away for work to restore it back to pristine condition.
The refurbishment has been organised by Westside BID in a project funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The BID has commissioned Midtherm to carry out the work, a Dudley-based company which specialises in flues and all types of creative metalwork including laser cutting, enamels, fabrications and stainless steel.
Mark Jones, sales and marketing director at Midtherm, told Westside World that one of his first jobs would be to decide if Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward needed new heads!
He said: “It’s so exciting to be involved with a project like this. The materials and fittings used have weathered as you would expect them to, so we’ll have a good look at it to decide what to do and if we need to make a prototype with new faces for approval.
“We will probably keep the rusty look of the bench slats, given that they are not made out of stainless steel. We will also look at the faces to see what to do with those.
“It’s possible the bench could end up with a new look using enamel. Whatever we do, it will end up looking as good as new, if not even better.”
Founded in 1968, Midtherm is a family-run business with some 220 employees in the Dudley area. Almost four in ten of have a decade of service behind them or more.
Mr Jones added: “There’s a lot more skill here than people realise. We offer full solutions for everything from cutting metal to bending, welding, assembling and so on.”
Mike Olley, general manager at Westside BID, said: “The bench is so popular it needs a big sprucing up. It is arguably Birmingham and the West Midlands’ biggest-used ‘engagement public art’ piece.
“Visitors from all over the world enjoy seeing it and that’s a real tribute to Black Sabbath – a truly global bunch of Brummies. We are very grateful to the UK Shared Prosperity funding which has enabled the investment of several thousands of pounds in this refurbishment, looking at replacing the heads and bench struts with a cleaner, more streamlined material.”
The UK Shared Prosperity project is funded by the UK government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, organised regionally by the West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council.
Meanwhile, Canadian logistics expert JJ Maislin couldn’t believe his bad luck when he rocked up next to the bench just five minutes too late to see the complete work in its usual position.
He had travelled from Montreal to visit his University of Birmingham law student son, Ethan. But just as the pair were walking up Broad Street on Monday, the faces of Geezer, Ozzy, Tony and Bill had just been laid flat in the back of a van pending the mother of all spruce-ups.
JJ said: “It’s great to see something like this in a city which has given the world acts from Jeff Lynne to Duran Duran.”
Two of the last people to pose with the bench in recent days before it was removed were equally far travelled – Mike from Mexico and London-based Jose, who hails from Colombia.
Both told Westside World they just had to come to see the bench – software expert Mike had flown over to see some Depeche Mode gigs, but Sabbath were his other favourite band and he loved the artwork depicting his heavy metal heroes.
Now, fans who have missed the bench are expected to have to wait for a few weeks before it returns in another blaze of glory.
● The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a central pillar of the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda and provides £2.6 billion of funding for local investment by March 2025. The Fund aims to improve pride in place and increase life chances across the UK investing in communities and place, supporting local business, and people and skills. Visit this page for more information.
Learn more about the UK Shared Prosperity (UKSPF) here: UKSPF Birmingham.
Pictures and video by Graham Young.