Birmingham music: Do you remember these Birmingham bands of the 1980s?

Here’s our selection of some great forgotten and overlooked Brum bands from the decade that gave us shoulder pads, indie music, Dallas and the Rubik’s Cube!
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

In Duran Duran, UB40 and Dexys Midnight Runners, Birmingham produced some of the biggest bands of the 1980s.

But while those acts are justifiably mainstays of any decent ’80s mixtape or playlist, the city produced dozens of other acts who packed such venues as The Rum Runner and Botanical Gardens, and appeared on Top Of The Pops, The Tube and also local arts series Look! Hear! (hosted by Kings Heath’s very own Toyah).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

So hot on the heels of our recent feature Bostin Sounds of Brumrock: The Brummie bands you may have forgotten, here’s our selection of some great forgotten and overlooked Brum bands from the decade that gave us shoulder pads, indie music, Dallas and the Rubik’s Cube!

Swans Way

Formed in Birmingham in 1982, Swans Way were firm local faves who rehearsed in the legendary Rum Runner venue. The trio cracked the UK Top 20 in 1984 with their second single, the epic Soul Train.

Featured on their debut album, The Fugitive Kind (alongside non-chart singles Illuminations and The Anchor) big things were expected of Robert Shaw (vocals), Maggie K De Monde (vocals, percussion) and Rick P. Jones (double bass) - who made numerous TV appearances, including The Old Grey Whistle Test. But sadly, the trio sadly split in 1985.

Maggie de Monde from ‘80s band Scarlet FantasticMaggie de Monde from ‘80s band Scarlet Fantastic
Maggie de Monde from ‘80s band Scarlet Fantastic

Scarlet Fantastic

After Swans Way imploded, Maggie and Rick (who’d previously played together in Brum post-punk/ New Romantic hopefuls The Playthings) reconvened in Sparkhill as Scarlet Fantastic, describing themselves as an "anti-depression act."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A BBC Radio One session and appearance on the legendary The Tube followed, leading to debut single No Memory, which hit number 24 in the charts in 1987.

However, they too dissolved after their debut album, 24 Hours, although Maggie revived the Scarlet Fantastic name a few years ago, and continues to record and release new music from her Sussex home.

Her most recent release is Make Way For Love, produced by Sean Dickson (from Scottish hitmakers The Soup Dragons). Find out more:

Scarlet FantasticScarlet Fantastic
Scarlet Fantastic


If there was ever a band that was going to challenge Duran Duran, it was going to be Fashiøn. Formed in 1979 as a new wave act, they played alongside The Police, U2, UB40, Toyah, Cov’s Hazel O’Connor, Gang Of Four and boasted Duran as a support act.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Their breakthrough looked certain when they signed to major label Arista and released their second LP, Fabrique, in 1982. Featuring the singles Move On, Streetplayer (Mechanik), and Love Shadow, their revised blend of sophisticated funk and synth pop was ahead of the game and club-ready (hence numerous pioneering 12-inch extended remixes).

Despite Fabrique cracking the Top 10, sustained mainstream success eluded the band, and - following various line-up shifts - Fashiøn split after their third LP, 1984’s Twilight Of Idols, only limped to no.69 in the charts.

The Bureau (photo credit: Mike Laye)The Bureau (photo credit: Mike Laye)
The Bureau (photo credit: Mike Laye)

The Bureau and The Blue Ox Babes

When Mark One of Dexy’s Midnight Runners splintered in the wake of their landmark Searching For The Young Soul Rebels album, Dexys’ Kevin Rowland bounced back with a new sound and international success.

Yet two other underrated acts emerged from the split: The Bureau and The Blue Ox Babes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Featuring Pete Williams and Mick Talbot (soon to be one half of The Style Council), The Bureau played alongside The Specials, The Pretenders and Hazel O’Connor, and remarkably scored an Aussie Top 10 hit with Only For Sheep, before fading away.

Meanwhile, The Blue Ox Babes, led by original Midnight Runner Kevin ‘Al’ Archer, added a ‘gypsy’ angle to the Dexys sound (and influenced Rowland’s own future direction). Kev’s band produced a string of well-received singles, including There’s No Deceiving You and Apples And Oranges, before they too broke up.

Coincidentally, both outfits recorded debut albums that laid unreleased in their lifetimes, with The Blue Ox Babes’ Apples And Oranges finally seeing the light of day in 2009, and The Bureau’s self-titled collection belatedly dropping in 2005.

Having recently supported The Specials on their 2021 UK tour, Pete Williams appears at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on 20 Feb 2022. See for details.

The Maisonettes

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When Brum rock act City Boy - famed for their 1978 Top 10 single 5-7-0-5 - split, co-writer Lol Mason formed The Maisonettes.

The band looked set for success, with super-catchy Motown influenced debut single Heartache Avenue. Released on Dudley indie label Ready Steady Go!, it peaked at number 7 in January 1983. Sadly, follow-up, Where I Stand, would only reach number 80, and the group eventually disbanded after their LP, Maisonettes For Sale, failed to make an impact.

Lol (who passed away in 2019) went on to work with Samantha Fox, while Heartache Avenue returned to the Top 10 in 2005 when Brit grime/rap crew Roll Deep sampled it for The Avenue.

Hollywood Beyond

With a repetitive exotic beat, Hollywood Beyond’s What’s The Colour of Money? was one of the biggest hits of the summer of 1986, cracking the Top 10 in June.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A vehicle for singer/songwriter (and Rum Runner regular) Mark Rogers, the accompanying album, the genre-hopping If, dropped the following year and saw Mark collaborate with such A-lister producers as Chic’s Bernard Edwards, Marcus Miller (Luther Vandross) and Stephen Hague (Pet Shop Boys, OMD, New Order), and has since become something of a collectable - prompting a recent re-release by the Cherry Pop label.

Mark continues to write and record today. Find him on Facebook:

Dave Wakeling from The Beat ((Photo credit Bryan Kremkau)Dave Wakeling from The Beat ((Photo credit Bryan Kremkau)
Dave Wakeling from The Beat ((Photo credit Bryan Kremkau)

General Public

Everyone remembers The Beat, the punky reggae band whose massive hits included Mirror In The Bathroom, Tears of A Clown and the politically charged Stand Down Margaret. But who remembers General Public?

When The Beat fractured, David Steele and Andy Cox formed Fine Young Cannibals, while vocalists Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling formed General Public, with former members of The Specials, Dexys and The Clash!

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Singles General Public and Tenderness barely registered in the UK, although Tenderness faired far better in Canada and the US, and later cropped up on the soundtracks for teen flicks Sixteen Candles and Weird Science.

General Public released two LPs before dissolving. A mid-90s reunion gave us a cover of I’ll Take You There, but after that Ranking and Wakeling returned to their own projects - including US and UK variations of The Beat.

Ranking sadly passed away in 2019. Long based in the US, Dave’s English Beat (who often play the odd General Public track live) are due to tour this summer. See:

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. BirminghamWorld is Birmingham’s latest news website, championing everything that is great about our city - reporting on news, lifestyle and sport. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.