Stephen Duffy - My Birmingham


I was born, at home, in Highfield Road, Alum Rock. A fact now considered fanciful, by those with a short memory. I went to Washwood Heath Comprehensive School. 


The teachers drank at the Ward End, the pupils at the Manor House which, like my childhood, has disappeared. I wasn’t at all academic. I didn’t listen, as I didn’t think anyone said anything interesting, but as I wasn’t listening how did I know? I heard the voice of Dylan Thomas so I liked English and we studied the Vietnam War, which was still being fought, so I liked History.


After failing most of my O levels and CSE’s I just went back to the sixth form as if nothing had happened. Mr Pearson, the head of art and thankfully my form teacher, put me in an art class and gave me a camera . He knew Thatcher was coming and told me to go to college because soon working class kids wouldn’t be able to. The schools camera was a Praktica without a light meter. They showed me how to use a light meter but again I didn’t listen. I guessed. They let me take it out of school and make pictures. Such was the trust then. Pearson asked me to record the summer fete for a slide show at parents evening. I chose to make black and white Agfa Gevaert film transparencies which perhaps weren’t as cheerful as everyone had hoped.

In the winter, as I approached my final year at school, I wandered the streets of the city taking pictures. Around Barabarellas in Cumberland Street and The Crown, Hill Street. Down roads that have also disappeared past buildings that witnessed magic. The Walkman hadn’t been invented then so I thought about music and played the songs in my head. Even the shortest days were long. It started to snow.

I took my slides to the Fazeley Street Department of Foundation Studies where they accepted me on the course even before I failed my Art A level. Once there I gave up photography and art and concentrated on writing songs and starting groups. But what an amazing building that was. No wonder they had to knock it down, like The Golden Eagle and Barbarellas they had to destroy what kills them. The joy they don’t have, the creativity that is a mystery to them. Physically I left Birmingham five years later so these transparencies, where everything is so far away, is still my home town. It’s drizzling, what isn’t falling down is being knocked down, but there’s a Jean Luc Goddard film on at the Arts Lab, after a quick one at the Red Star Club, the Slits are playing Barbarellas and your girlfriends parents are both on nights.



Stephen Duffy December 2014