Chris Downing tells Andrew Cowen why Birmingham can supply all the hits he needs.


There's not much that Chris Downing doesn't know about the Birmingham music scene.

For more than two years he has been broadcasting a weekly Brumcast over the internet, getting thousands of hits.

An early adopter of the now ubiquitous podcast formula, it's been Chris's mission to seek out the best unsigned music in the city and feed it to as wide an audience as possible.

"I had grown fed up with the music I was listening to on the radio," he tells me.

"After John Peel passed away, there seemed to be no way to find the more interesting stuff. It struck me that there are loads of bands in Birmingham and I didn't know what most of them sounded like, so I decided to do something about it.

"Along the way, I seem to have unleashed a monster."

Chris, 32, now receives up to 70 tracks a week to listen to and he finds that Brumcast is taking up most of his free time.

"It's hard to listen to it all," he admits. "I've recently come to an arrangement with the City University where students will be working with me as part of their media courses.

"I'd love to make a living from this but I'm currently making a loss. On the up-side, I do get to meet some terrific people."

Chris has this week started to supply The Birmingham Post website with a weekly Brumcast, accessible to download or stream through a snazzy cassette interface from our blogs and comment section.

"I'm really chuffed that The Post got in touch about hosting Brumcast," he tells me. "I'll try to do a full show every week, although wedding plans may get in the way in the short term.

"I've got enough stuff to go around and if it gets more listeners, then it's job done."

On average, 600 people download the show every week but the numbers who stream Brumcast is significantly higher, especially if the show has received a promotional push.

While many of the people who access the show are from the Midlands, Chris has noticed one strange trend.

"For some reason which I haven't been able to fathom, there are loads of people in Poland downloading and streaming the show.

"Maybe the word's getting back from Birmingham's Polish community that there's a great scene here."

Speaking of scenes, Chris has also noticed that there is no particular "Birmingham sound".

"Music here is so diverse," he says. "It strikes me that every band in Birmingham has its own little quirk."

He cites the much-tipped Johnny Foreigner and the live sensation Destroyers as just two bands who deserve greater success.

"It's criminal that the Destroyers aren't huge," he says."Live, they're fantastic. Such energy.

"Johnny Foreigner have been booked for the Levi's Ones To Watch Tour and I reckon they'll be big soon."

Despite the wealth of talent in the city and surrounding area, Chris is frustrated that the larger record labels seem to give Birmingham a wide berth and that the city still remains out of fashion, despite acts like The Twang, The Editors and The Enemy, from Coventry, scoring significant hits.

"I have a theory," he tells me. "Because we're so close to London, record labels won't pay for a hotel so the A&R (talent scouts) men don't stop over.

"It would be a shame if that was true and it's certainly worrying."

The city has no choice but to do what it can to support an underground scene and there is a strong sense of community amongst new bands.

While the internet has been vital in spreading music on a global level, Chris believes that there is still much more to be done at the grass-roots level.

"We need more venues," he says. "Bands need places to play. It's as simple as that. Without an audience you're nothing.

"On top of that, I think the bands could be more proactive. I've been to gigs where the band was playing to only eight people.

"If you're just starting out and don't have much of a following, then you have to work at getting a crowd in."

Chris is also critical of the attitude of established record labels who don't have long-term vision.

"Labels are just not listening," he tells me. They need to talk to the people who are actually making the music.

"They have their eyes on short-term gains, not lasting success. This whole Pop Idol/X Factor thing is so damaging. It drives me insane. How many times do we have to listen to somebody murdering Unchained Melody?"

Despite this, Chris agrees that he provides a valuable service.

"I know that local radio listens to my pod-cast for purposes of research, which is good for the scene.

"Sometimes I have A&R men come to see me. I always ask them to give me a job."

Of the hundreds of people I talk to each year, Chris is easily the most enthusiastic about music. He's on a mission to lift the city's scene to a new level and he will succeed.

> Click here for the Brumcast