History of...Battle of the Bands
At the end of 1984, Sam Holliday, a local music reporter for the Tamworth Herald had a brilliant idea to inject enthusiasm into the local music scene – a 'Battle of the Bands'. The idea for the contest had been around for a long time, following the repeated success of a similar venture in Burton.
When the idea was put before Tamworth’s bands, the contest was greeted with universal enthusiasm. And so the first-ever ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition in Tamworth took place in 1985 at Tamworth Arts Centre. It’s aim was to find Tamworth’s top group and it received Council backing as part of the Young People’s Arts Festival event which was held in the town every two years.
Originally, each band was given a maximum of 25 minutes to impress the judges, who each gave points on content, presentation and, in true ‘New Faces’ style, star quality. The acts were marked out of 10 for content and five for the other two categories, enabling the five judges to award a maximum of 100 points between them. Judges for the event comprised fellow musicians, Herald reporters and local music enthusiasts.
The first winners of the event in 1985 were Breaking Point.
The event ran succesfully until 1988, therafter the Herald MusicBox did an annual poll to find the best Band/Album/Gig etc in the town.
Then in 1998, Tamworth Borough Council's Arts & Events team resurrected the Battle of the Bands competition. With sponsorship and support from the Tamworth Herald, the event tookplace over four heats and two semi-finals at Tamworth Arts Centre, with the grand Final at Tamworth Assembly Rooms.
With the prize for the finalists being a spot in the Castle Grounds on the main stage for the annual Tamworth Free Fest event, interest from bands was high and the competition in 2001 was upped to six heats (30 bands) to accommodate the interest.
The event continued its popularity through the early 2000s and started to attract big sponsors and big prizes. However a re-shuffle in Tamworth Borough Council's arts service meant the sale of the Arts Centre. The event was moved to the Palace Media Centre in 2002 while work was carried out on Tamworth Assembly Rooms. The sale of the Media Centre after the competition in 2002 meant there would be no event in 2003 as a busy Assembly Rooms left no space for the event.The Arts Team pulled together in 2004 to ensure the event returned bigger than ever, and it did. With all six heats, two semi-finals and final being held in the Assembly Rooms, the event saw a record 46 bands try to register.
The success of the event showed that the scene was still alive and well. Long-standing and respected local musician Colin Brown finally got his hands on the trophy that year with his band Lando Calrissian.
In 2005 we probably saw one of the biggest shocks ever in a Battle of the Bands competition. With excitement and interest spreading about the town and its music scene, bands were beginning to spring up everyday in local schools and colleges. One the bands to form in the winter of 2004 was Reprobate, made up of five 14-year-olds from Polesworth High School. The shy unknown teenagers strolled into the semi-finals, leaving the more established Illfated and Chemikill in their trails. In the semi-finals, against the favourites Indigos and Mojostripe, the band again produced a flawless and confident set, which took them into the final. The final saw them again up against Indigos and crowd favourites Johnny Action Finger. The shy, young and unheard of Reprobate, who had formed only 10 months previously, won the final and claimed the title of Tamworth's best band.
Over the years the influx of more heavy bands started to infiltrate the scene, and in 2006 one of better heavy bands to come through was Lost In Vegas, claiming the title from new boys At The Zoo, who impressed many with their watertight pop/ska/indie beats.
2007 saw town favorites and deserving winners Abraxus take the title. They'd been knocking on the door for many years but this finally saw them take home the title. The 2007 competition saw the birth of The Madcaps, a 70s rock-esque outfit full of memorable and brilliant songs who went on to conquer venues all over the Midlands. This year also saw the entry of Tek No Notice, a tongue in cheek take on 80s synth pop.
In 2008, the local music scene had exploded, with three or four gigs happening in the town every week. Promoters and bands were showing up everywhere, which meant anticipation for this year's Battle Of The Bands competition was higher than ever. With Kerrang Radio on board as sponsors, promising the best Free Fest ever, the bands came out in force. Known to many in the acoustic circle was Mike Dryburg . He had entered this year's competition with rumours of 'an exciting, never-done-before project'. Creating a one-man band through guitars, loop pedals and vocal beats, Mike, or Smiley as was his stage name, stormed to take the title. Smiley twice broke the audience vote record during the competition. In the semi-finals an incredible 89 people voted for him. In beating At The Zoo and The Hot Rockets to first place, Smiley had notched up an incredible 109 audience votes in the final. The year also gave us our first showing of family band Suvvana, with mum on bass, dad on guitar, 13-year-old on percussion and 12-year-old on keys. A crowd favourite!.
Town and crowd favourites At The Zoo didn't have to wait long for their success. In 2009 the band fulfilled their potential by lifting the trophy in front of another sell-out audience. The Hot Rockets again, for the fourth time, found themselves in the top three but without the trophy. Sadly for bands, the Free Fest was dropped from the annual calendar as bigger and more commercial festivals started to appear in the Castle Grounds, now home to the West Midland Music Festival, which sadly snubbed Tamworth's local talent.
2010 again got heavy with Reigning Fury headbanging their way to the title. The heavier bands had started to show themselves as better competition in a more indie-driven town. An eye-catching band from the heats were the newbies Pressure Kids, who then sadly dropped out of the competition due to personal reasons. The scene by now was not as strong as previous years, gigs were becoming few and far between but again Battle of the Bands drew the crowds and the bands.